Can someone give me an account of the word wherewithal? According to etymonline it is a combination of where and withal. But withal means "in addition." So how does wherewithal come to mean "having the means?"
Additionally, what is the name of the phenomenon of two words joining into one - where + withal?

  • Hi Mark. Are you aware of the website etymonline? Please take a look there and let us know what is missing from their explanation. Sep 27, 2011 at 7:47
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    Thanks Matt Эллен. I am aware but didn't find anything because I originally spelled it with two "l"s. I'll refine my question.
    – Mark
    Sep 27, 2011 at 7:53
  • A search for misspelled wherewithall etymology also brings this up as the first result: etymonline.com/index.php?term=wherewithal
    – Hugo
    Sep 27, 2011 at 7:58
  • An interesting twist here wherewithal=wherewith+al but I cannot find resources to back this up. answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=142563
    – JoseK
    Sep 27, 2011 at 12:57
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    If it’s still of any interest, I’ve just come across this translation from Philip II of Macedonia (interesting, apart from anything else, as the origin of the saying): ‘Macedonians hath not the with to call a spade a spade by any other name than a spade.’ The OED has 88 instances of ‘the with’, but I haven’t gone through them. Oct 1, 2011 at 15:57

3 Answers 3


According to "juggler-ga" at Google Answers (check it out, it's a good read), understanding wherewithal works better if it's parsed wherewith-al rather than where-withal

Using Chaucer quotes from the OED, juggler establishes wherewith as originally having an interregatory meaning of with what and explains that the practice of adding where to prepositions does not imply location. Moving on to some Shakespeare quotes, juggler shows how wherewith took the form of a conjunction meaning with which and then concludes:

Finally, and most importantly to this discussion, wherewith took the form of a noun meaning "that with which." OED Examples:

1611 Bible Ps. cxix. 42 So shall I have wherewith to answere him that reprocheth me.

In other words, "So shall I have that with which to answer him..."

1788 PRIESTLEY Lect. Hist. V. lviii. 460 They will have wherewith to purchase the produce of other countries.

In other words, "They will have that with which to purchase the produce..."

In this sense (a noun meaning "that with which"), "wherewith" is the equivalent of "wherewithal." And in fact the two were used interchangeably.

OED example:

1742 FIELDING J. Andrews IV. i, When your ladyship's livery was stript off, he had not wherewithal to buy a coat.

And this usage as a noun is the form that has come down to us meaning the necessary funds or resources.

As for the -al, apparently with, withal and withall were used interchangeably by the likes of Shakespeare and the KJB scribes.

  • Sure the author gives examples, as resources to back up I meant all others point to where+withal and only this one says otherwise.
    – JoseK
    Sep 27, 2011 at 16:20
  • @JoseK: I see. If this argument is an outlier, I agree it would be good to find corroboration elsewhere. Still, pretty convincing. Sep 27, 2011 at 22:29

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

wherewithal (adv.)
"means by which," 1530s, from where + withal. The noun is first recorded 1809.

And also:

"in addition," late 14c., from M.E. with alle (c.1200), superseding O.E. mid ealle "wholly" (see with).

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    I don't see how that explains anything at all, really. To say that the word is composed of "where" plus a word meaning "in addition", and ends up meaning "means by which", is to restate everything the OP knows, and entirely fail to provide the logical connection. It is not at all apparent why the combination of the two source words should come to mean what it does. Sep 27, 2011 at 8:42

‘Wherewithal’ itself doesn’t mean ‘having the means’. However, when preceded by the definite article it takes on the meaning of 'the means or resources (to do something)'. It can also be used without a following infinitive and when it is it can mean more specifically financial resources. Both uses are first recorded in 1809.

A word like ‘wherewithal’, which has more than one lexical stem, is called a compound.

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    That still doesn't come close to answering: "How does wherewithal (from where + withal meaning 'in addition') come to mean 'the means or resources'?" Sep 27, 2011 at 11:07
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    Although the OED give the etymology as ‘where’ + ‘withal’, I think we might better be able to understand how it comes to mean (financial) resources by regarding it as a combination of the long established ‘wherewith’ (meaning 'with which') + ‘al’, ‘al’ being an earlier spelling of ‘all’. ‘The wherewithal’ is thus the means with which all things can be accomplished. Sep 27, 2011 at 14:34
  • Wherewithal as a noun can be found earlier than 1809: "Have you the wherewithal? Have you the fund?" —Richard Cumberland, 1790
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 27, 2021 at 16:14

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