The popular question words how, when, what, why, which and some more all have their accompanying word ending in -ever, like however and whatever.

It seems to me that the word wherever is somewhat inconsistent in this context, as it omits one e — either the last letter of where or the first letter of ever.

Is the spelling of wherever a simple exception, or is there a (probably not limited to these question words and the -ever ending) rule that can help me to figure out when to omit a vowel without googling for it?

  • 1
    Because language is primarily spoken, and the written form attempts to capture it (not always very effectively). The word where ends with an /r/ sound, not a vowel, so wherever plonks ever on the end of that. The silent 'e' is fairly pointless anyway, but is hardly ever written in the middle of words, and never before another vowel.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 25 '14 at 19:29
  • @ColinFine Your “and never before another vowel” thing doesn’t hold in lawyerese, wherein can be found no few such annoyances as just previously demonstrated.
    – tchrist
    Oct 1 '14 at 12:36
  • @tchrist: true. I overspoke.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 1 '14 at 16:54

It is generally called the silent e rule:

Suffix addition: dropping silent e

  • The silent e rule is more consistent than the doubling rule. The principle: since the silent e's "job" is to change a vowel sound, if there is another vowel to take its place, the e can go away.

  • Therefore, if the suffix begins with a vowel, you drop the e.

  • It doesn't matter how many syllables there are, or what the vowel coming before the silent e sounds like, or whether there are two consonants ("wasting" drops the e, too).

  • There are some exceptions -- when you need to keep the e for some other purpose, such as making a c or g say /s/ or /j/, as in "courageous."

Source: www.resourceroom.net


As a gross general rule of thumb, word final single 'e' gets deleted before suffixes beginning with vowels, especially grammatical suffixes. So we don't have:

  • liveing
  • liveed
  • giveer
  • blueish
  • trueer
  • trueest
  • sizees

Instead we get:

  • living
  • lived
  • giver
  • bluish
  • truest
  • sizes

Wherever seems to fit this rule of thumb.

Hope this is helpful!

  • 2
    Note that the fairly common "moreover" and "whereupon" defy this rule of thumb. Apr 8 '15 at 13:19
  • @MarcvanLeeuwen Indeed, that's true! I have a feeling that's because these are proper compounds of prepositions, whereas ever is a genuine grammatical suffix, you can stick it on just about any wh- word. Apr 8 '15 at 14:42

The thing you need to remember about the word wherever is that it used to be two words, and began life that way. For quite a while it was written that way, too, but then it started getting hyphenated. When finally the hyphen itself was lost, it made no sense to write with two e’s the sound of just one of them.

The OED says:

Orginally as two words (and so still in sense 1); subsequently often with hyphen, where-ever (where-e’er), etc.; now always in contracted spelling wherever (where’er), the final e of where coalescing with the initial e of ever.

That last past about “now always in contracted spelling” tells the entire tale of this fully predictable coalescence. The OED elsewhere points out that the very same thing happened to the somewhat uncommonly seen whosever, where again it came from whose + ever, but lost one e upon contraction.

However, the now-archaic whosesoever with its infix -so- was enough to preserve the final e of whose. But that flavor of the word is exceedingly rare. Is isn’t clear how it might have further contracted in writing had it seen more use. Notice that the corresponding wheresoever keeps everything, so perhaps it just wouldn’t have.

One more of these oldies that follows the same sort of coalescence is whencever, formed from whence + ever but losing an e. There was once also the conjunction whilever, but that’s now considered declassé.

Here’s the full OED list of the related -ever words, mostly formed by starting with wh-question words and then adding a piece or two to make a compound word. Notice how those formed with infix -some- also lose an e upon fusion with a following ever. Words that have lost an -e are marked in bold below; as you will see, it is entirely predicable when this occurs:

  • however [adv.]
  • howsoever [adv.]
  • howsomever [adv.]
  • whatever [pron. and adj.]
  • whatsoever [pron.]
  • whatsomever [pron.]
  • whencesoever [adv.]
  • whencever [adv.]
  • whenever [adv.]
  • whensoever [adv.]
  • whensomever [adv.]
  • whereinsoever [adv.]
  • wheresoever [adv.]
  • wheresomever [adv.]
  • wheretoever ← whereto
  • wherever [adv.]
  • whethersoever [pron.]
  • whichever [adj.]
  • whichsoever [pron.]
  • whilever [conj.] ← while
  • whithersoever [adv.]
  • whoever [pron.]
  • whomever [pron.]
  • whomsoever [pron.]
  • whosesoever [pron.]
  • whosever [pron.]
  • whosoever [pron.]
  • whosomever [pron.]
  • whyever [adv.]

The list also includes without prejudice words of that formulation which might now be considered archaic, obsolete, or vulgar (read: uneducated), but it does exclude predictable poetic contractions such as where’er.


One should add that "ee" is an irritating vowel group if it is not a long /i:/ as in to feel, to see, knee, wheel etc. So it is useful that a final and silent e is omitted when a syllable is added. If we spelled live +ed as liveed you would probably read /li'vi:d/, and then in a second reading you would recognize that the past form of to live is meant.


Summary of some other jobs of Silent E

Job #1: Silent E makes the vowel before it long, as in note.

Job #2: Silent E can make c and g soft, as in race and page.

Job #3: Silent E keeps u and v from being the last letter in a word, as in clue and give.

Job #4: Silent E adds a vowel to words with the Consonant+l-e syllable pattern, as in handle.

@Araucaria => Where + ever = wherever The single 'E' gets deleted before suffixes beginning with vowels

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