I'm aware that the word "wherefore" can be used in the same way as "why", as in classic Shakespeare: "Wherefore art thou Romeo" (NOT meaning where).

However how else can it be properly used? Please don't just give me a dictionary definition, or a simple example, but please help distinguish it from "therefore", which is the thrust of my question.


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    Have you looked in dictionaries to see examples of its usage/s? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 17 '15 at 16:31
  • I have @EdwinAshworth, they usually give me the definition closest to "why", and, when supplying the other, aren't, in my mind, distinguishing it well enough from "therefore"... – John Samps Jun 17 '15 at 16:36
  • I suggest you make a question more focused on what you don't understand (your doubts ) about its usage that cannot be found in dictionaries, or it may be seen as a GR question. – user66974 Jun 17 '15 at 16:43
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    I said examples. Not definitions. eg Oxford Dictionaries has: Definition of wherefore in English: interrogative adverb For what reason: she took an ill turn, but wherefore I cannot say // relative adverb& conjunction As a result of which: [AS CONJUNCTION]: truly he cared for me, wherefore I title him with all respect MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES – Edwin Ashworth Jun 17 '15 at 16:43
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    @ John Samps: ... aren't, in my mind, distinguishing it well enough from "therefore.. But if wherefore prefaces a question ("why?"), therefore resolves the answer: ("so... ") . – Margana Jun 17 '15 at 17:11

The Book of Common Prayer uses wherefore as a resumptive (relative conjunction). After the minister has read the preface explaining why confession is appropriate he/she starts the next paragraph:

Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present, to accompany me...

For which reason...


The OED provides six different senses, with examples from the 13th century onward. This is the list of senses, and I have given the most recent examples of each.

I. Interrogative uses.
For the dependent or indirect interrogative use, and its distinction from the relative, cf. what pron., adj.1, and adv. I.

  1. For what? esp. for what purpose or end? (Often scarcely distinguishable from 2.)

a1616  Shakespeare Comedy of Errors (1623) iii. i. 40 E.  Ant... Open the dore. S. Dro. Right sir, Ile tell you when, and you'll tell me wherefore. Ant. Wherefore? for my dinner.

1667  Milton Paradise Lost iv. 657  But wherfore all night long shine these..?

1846  A. Marsh Father Darcy xxix,  Here I am—wherefore come, I have to learn.

  1. For what cause or reason? on what account? why? (Freq. with ellipsis; often coupled with why for emphasis.)

1853  Dickens Bleak House xx. 193  If he be ever asked how, why, when, or wherefore, he shuts up one eye and shakes his head.

1873  H. W. Longfellow Michael Angelo i. iv,  But wherefore should I jest?


II. Relative uses.

  1. For which. Now distinguished by stress and spelling (whereˈfor).

1600  Shakespeare Henry V v. ii. 1  Peace to this meeting, wherefore we are met.

1913  Act 3 & 4 Geo. V c. 20 §118 (1) (d)  All sums (not exceeding..one hundred pounds) due in respect of compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, the liability wherefor accrued before the said date.

  1. On account of or because of which; in consequence or as a result of which. Chiefly with n. (esp. reason or cause) as antecedent. arch.

1597  R. Hooker Of Lawes Eccl. Politie v. lxiii. 151  The true reason wherfore Christ doth loue belieuers is because their belief is the gift of God.

1829  R. Southey Sir T. More II. 187  The reason is sufficiently manifest wherefore a preference for republican institutions should hitherto have been shown.

  1. a. Introducing a clause expressing a consequence or inference from what has just been stated: On which account; for which reason; which being the case; and therefore. (Now always ˈwherefore.)

1842 Tennyson Morte d'Arthur in Poems (new ed.) II. 15 More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

1882 W. Besant All Sorts of Men II. xxix. 238 A person, you see, is an individual, or an indivisible thing. Wherefore, let us not despise our neighbour.

5b - obsolete


  1. as n. A question beginning with wherefore, or (more usually) the answer to such question; cause, reason. Often following why similarly used.

1838  Dickens Oliver Twist II. xxx. 184  They will have the why and the wherefore, and take nothing for granted.

1884  A. S. Swan Dorothea Kirke xiv,  I am carried back to the days when I rebelled and demanded the wherefore of all God's dealings with me.

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    This is just copy paste from the OED. Can you at least add some minimal meaningful commentary to address the OPs concerns? – Mitch Jun 17 '15 at 16:50
  • @Mitch The OP seemed to want examples - so that is what I gave. But thanks to Janus. – WS2 Jun 17 '15 at 17:12
  • Thank you @WS2, I suppose my original question should be rephrased, asking how this word ought to be distinguished from "therefore" – John Samps Jun 17 '15 at 17:49
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    @John Samps Senses 4 and 5a would seem to have some correspondence with therefore. Otherwise it appears to me mainly interrogative. – WS2 Jun 17 '15 at 18:28
  • John Lawler gave the (or at least an) answer to the most sensible interpretation of the original question, which was 'However how else can (not 'could') it be properly used? Only lawyers should use this word. It's not part of standard modern English, and only exists in formulaic speech and writing. We really should start divorcing historical analyses from modern usage advice. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 17 '15 at 21:53

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