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I have this sentence:

Even if it takes forever, I am going to speak English like a native.

What I want to know is whether the first part of the sentence would be better replaced by whenever or however:

Even if it takes forever

My teacher says that whenever is the better option here, but I think it better to use however instead because I understand that the speaker wants to speak English at any price.

What is your opinion?

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    "Forever" is the correct word in that sentence, and you should not replace it with either "whenever" or "however". If you want to completely rephrase the statement, you could start it with "whatever", as in "Whatever it takes, I'm going to learn to speak English like a native".
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:05
  • Well, the goal was replace the first statement with some word ending with -ever. I feel more confused now ¬¬
    – omar
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:14
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    Your assignment is ill-posed. If you're not allowed to restructure the sentence, and must simply fill the blank in "Even if it takes ___, I am...", with a word ending in "-ever", then then only possible candidate is "forever". If you're allowed to rearrange the sentence, then there are any number of possibilities. For just one, simple example: "Learning a foreign language is very difficult; however, I'm committed to learning to speak English like a native."
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:18
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    Then say "Whatever it takes", as I suggested in my first comment.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:26
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    Our sister site for English Language Learners may be of interest.
    – choster
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:46

3 Answers 3

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If you have the option to recreate the phrase Even if it takes forever and use multiple words you can acceptably use either whenever or however. For instance:

  1. "Whenever it happens, I am going to speak English like a native."
  2. "However long it takes, I am going to speak English like a native."

However, if you tried to use only a single word, either whenever or however, then either would in most cases sound cluncky to a native ear. Also, however changes meaning when used as a single word to start a sentence. In this case, however signifies a contrast. I can say:

"You predicted I will never learn to speak English well. However, I am going to learn to speak English like a native. Then you will see how wrong you were."

But I couldn't use "however" as a single word to start a sentence if I wasn't making a contrast. In your example, you cannot know that something exists to make that contrast; therefore, however as a single word is not appropriate.

Whenever can be used as a single word at the beginning of a sentence and when so used can retain its meaning of "no matter when" or (used informally) "at an unknown or unspecified time" - both definitions from Collins.

It's more common by native speakers to use a single word whenever at the end of a sentence, such as "I'll do that whenever" the same way one can say "I'll do that happily." But as always allowed in English, the adverb can be moved to the beginning of the sentence. It is possible to say, "Whenever, I'll do that" just as it's possible to say "Happily, I'll do that."

There's a recent hit song by Shakira that uses whenever in this way:

"Whenever, wherever, we're meant to be together."

Shakira's not a native English speaker but I think this line sounds acceptable to a native ear.

Also commonly heard in English is the single word whenever when the rest of the sentence is understood. I doubt any native English speaker would have a problem with this dialogue:

A:  "When should I pay you back?"
B:  "Whenever."

But technically the full sentence is "Whenever [you pay me back]." So while most native speakers may not be accustomed to hearing whenever at the beginning of longer sentence and, thus, it sounds wrong to them, they actually hear whenever used in this way with understood sentences all the time. Let's try again:

A:  "When are you going to to speak English like a native?"
B:  "Whenever."

Again, no one would have protested this use because this form is so commonly heard. But the full, understood second sentence is "Whenever [I am going to speak English like a native]." Which means that had you said the full, understood sentence, you would have been correct even though it might have grated on native ears that are not used to hearing the full, understood sentences.

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    'However' is a well known contrastive sentence connector, often used as an introductory phrase parenthetical. However, I've found no confirmation that a similar usage of the word 'whenever' is considered standard English. Your Collins reference does not license this usage. Can you back up your claim '"Whenever" can be used as a single word at the beginning of a sentence'? Sep 3, 2014 at 6:25
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    Interestingly enough, I don't think that line from the Shakira song works if remove either of the two words, but they seem to work okay in tandem. Consequently, I might be tempted to punctuate is like this: Whenever, wherever – we're meant to be together.
    – J.R.
    Sep 3, 2014 at 7:29
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    @EdwinAshworth as explained in my answer the Collins reference was used merely to provide definitions. It also notes the word whenever using those definitions is an adverb. Do you want me to post a source saying it's ok to begin a sentence with an adverb? See GrammarBuilder textbook
    – Brillig
    Sep 3, 2014 at 15:43
  • There are many adverbs and words looking like adverbs that can be used to start sentences. I want you to post a source saying that a sentence may be started by 'Whenever' followed by a comma, as an introductory parenthetical. My second sentence above gives an example using 'However,' which is traditionally a 'linking adverb', not a 'subordinating conjunction' like 'whenever' as shown in this ABA article. This puts 'whenever' in the same class as say 'until'. Sep 3, 2014 at 16:37
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    @EdwinAshworth until is not an adverb. It is a preposition. It can also be a conjunction, but it can't be an adverb. Therefore, your comment that whenever is in the same class as until is incorrect. Also, i am not talking about adverbs used as linking adverbs or used as subordinating conjunctions. From Collins it is clear I am referring to to definitions of whenever as an adverb not as a subordinating conjuction (separate definition). Also in the grammar book in my comment above, an adverb of this type can be at the beginning of a sentence. What's not clear?
    – Brillig
    Sep 3, 2014 at 17:25
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Replacing 'Even if it takes forever,' with 'However,' causes no problems grammatically, but the meaning is changed drastically. There would be an even more serious problem if the preceding context did not provide contrast: 'however' could not justifiably be used.

After checking, I've come across no modern treatments that accept 'whenever' as a 'conjunctive adverb' or 'sentence introducing pragmatic marker'. Even if it was ever used as such, I would not advise that it be used today by anyone who wants 'to speak English like a native' (of England). It might be used as a sentence substitute in a very colloquial / slang register:

'I'm busy this week; will next week do?'

'Oh, whenever!'

At grammarquizzes there's a lot of useful material on 'wh-ever phrases' (and clauses). Note that only 'however' = 'but', and dismissive slang 'Whatever!', are used outside a larger structure.

I'd say that the way an anglophone would most probably put it is:

'However long it takes, I am going to speak French like a native.'

..........................

I've been doing some further digging around this subject. CGEL is only marginally helpful here:

Only rather broad and approximate flexible generalisations about adjunct placement and sequence can be made. There is a great deal of variation in use, and features of context, style, prosody and euphony play a role in some decisions.

I posted this question on a different website:

A dispute has arisen concerning the acceptability of [a fronted unaccompanied usage of 'whenever':]

Whenever, I'll be going back to Bryce. (= some day, ...)

Do you consider this (1) a standard English usage, (2) slang, (3) totally unacceptable?

Is that based on (1) feel for English, (2) a rule of thumb, or (3) a reference in a standard grammar unequivocally licensing/flagging/proscribing the usage?

I received the reply, which I think essentially shows that the original is not the sort of question that learners should be exposed to never mind be expected to answer:

Since (3), "totally unacceptable", rarely enters my head as a linguistic category for something used by real (native) speakers, I propose (4), "extremely unconventional".

On the basis of (1), i.e. I have never heard it and would have difficulty grasping the meaning in speech.

If it is used, it is used. I will learn to live happily alongside it, in which case it may move from (4) to (2), or even (1). Phil White

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I could see using whenever in the sentence, but only if you reword it a little bit and turn it into a question:

Whenever am I going to speak English like a native?

That construct could be used to indicate exasperation, and aligns with Definition #4 at Collins:

whenever (adv.) an intensive form of when, used in questions ⇒ whenever did he escape?

Assuming that:

  • (a) you are going to retain this part of the sentence word-for-word:

I am going to speak English like a native.

  • (b) you want to change the entire clause at the beginning:

Even if it takes forever,

  • and (c) you don't want to change the meaning of the original,

then I don't think either of your one-word options is a good fit. You might try one of these:

Someday, I am going to speak English like a native.
One day, I am going to speak English like a native.
Eventually, I am going to speak English like a native.

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