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I recently asked

Whatever happened to (some noun from the past)?

But then wondered if I should have preferred to split whatever into two words:

What ever happened to (some noun from the past)?

I came to English.SE to resolve it. I read the (related) questions:

but was unable to glean which was preferred in my context.

Is there a preference, or are they equivalent? Is there a rule I can learn?

  • In an answer to the latter question a claim was made 'The only instance where one will find what ever is in the interrogative.' Can you explain why and what you are skeptical of? – Elberich Schneider Dec 29 '13 at 22:51
  • Not skeptical, @Elberich. Confused, by jargon and ambiguity. Does "interrogative" just mean a question here? So I may use "what ever" in a question, or I should use it? – Oddthinking Dec 29 '13 at 22:57
  • Odd, in a question you can use either, depending on what the sense you want to render is. But, if I'm not wrong, the context you are referring to in the question is not question related – Elberich Schneider Dec 29 '13 at 23:05
  • @Elberich: If you expand on the differences between the two senses (I don't see any difference - hence my post) I think you'd have an answer. (I am not sure I understood your point in your second sentence. I think the original context is a question: e.g. "What[ ]ever happened to Gary Coleman?" is a question.) – Oddthinking Dec 29 '13 at 23:17
  • A quick look at the various usages of 'whatever' should explain everything. I'll just add that 'What ever gave him reason to regret his choice of career?' means 'What was there that ever gave him reason to regret his choice of career?' [usually said in an envious tone]. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 30 '13 at 0:08
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Whatever

pron.

Everything or anything that: Do whatever you please.
What amount that; the whole of what: Whatever is left over is yours.
No matter what: Whatever happens, we'll meet here tonight.
Which thing or things; what: Whatever does he mean?

Informal:

What remains and need not be mentioned; what have you: Please bring something to the party-pretzels, crackers, whatever.

adj.

Of any number or kind; any: Whatever requests you make will be granted.
All of; the whole of: She applied whatever strength she had left to the task.
Of any kind at all: No campers whatever may use the lake before noon.

Usage Note: Both whatever and what ever may be used in sentences such as Whatever/What ever made her say that? Critics have occasionally objected to the one-word form, but many respected writers have used it. The same is true of the forms whoever, whenever, wherever, and however. In adjectival uses, however, only the one-word form is used: Take whatever (not what ever) books you need.

When a clause beginning with whatever is the subject of a sentence, no comma should be used: Whatever you do is right.

In most other cases, a comma is needed: Whatever you do, don't burn the toast.

When a noun followed by a restrictive clause is preceded by whichever or whatever, it is regarded as incorrect to introduce the clause with that in formal writing: whatever book that you want to look at; one should write instead Whatever book you want to look at will be sent to your office or Whichever book costs less (not that costs less) is fine with us.

First Known Use of WHATEVER: 14th century

Origin 1300–50; Middle English; see what, ever

  • 1
    2500 views and I am the only upvoter for this excellent answer? Please give this answer some upvote love! – Oddthinking Dec 14 '14 at 21:07

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