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Sandra's been missing for a while, so we ask:

Whatever/What ever happened to Sandra?
What happened to Sandra?

Is there any difference between these two questions and the situation to ask them in?

  • You may also want to add "What ever happened to Sandra?" to your question. Which is likely what you really want to know about. – Jim Dec 17 '14 at 15:08
  • @Jim: Certainly what ever and whatever are not the same, but the question is whatever, as in the comedy Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? – Tim Lymington Dec 17 '14 at 15:17
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    Well now the question is for all three variants :D – J. K. Dec 17 '14 at 15:26
  • What's the difference between I have not been there and I have not ever been there? The difference is that ever is an unnecessary qualification, which calls attention to itself and therefore can be interpreted as possibly expressing more anxiety in the speaker's motivation for asking about Sandra's whereabouts, or (in the example I gave) denying that I have been there. – John Lawler Dec 17 '14 at 16:05
  • So use of the word "ever" amplifies the uncertainty in the question? Or is it plain wrong to use it? – J. K. Dec 17 '14 at 16:10
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In the offered usage, the term whatever means

Used for emphasis instead of “what” in questions, typically expressing surprise or confusion: whatever is the matter? Oxford Dictionaries Online

In addition to emphasis, it is different in connotation from what.

Whatever happened to Sandra suggests that the speaker has lost track of Sandra for some period of time and is inquiring about Sandra's broad state of being/relationship to the speaker or listener.

The sentence What happened to Sandra is much less specific. It could mean the same as Whatever ... but is more likely to refer to a specific incident, rather than a general state of being.

The difference between whatever and what seems to be the subject of an ongoing semantic (or orthographic) argument. See, for example, this usage discussion at American Heritage Dictionary.

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