There are two well-known meanings of "whereas", which are roughly "given that" (legal) and "in contrast to" (common). The Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary only addresses the legal usage, which appears to be old. If that is the original usage, where did the now common usage come from? (Perhaps as a replacement of whyle as?)

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    The legal sense can be repeated: Whereas, .... And whereas, ... The contrastive sense can't. I think it is a metaphoric use of the legal sense in a non-legal context. First stipulate something with an expected outcome, then state a different outcome; just rhetoric. Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 3:30
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    Related: "Usage of whileas instead of whereas" english.stackexchange.com/q/399095/14666
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 10:51
  • "In consideration of the fact that" vs. "In contrast to the fact that". A bit of a bifurcation along the way very early on, I'd think.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


The OED has a citation for the (legalese) meaning of 'whereas', in the sense of 'in view of':

(1426-27) W. Paston in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) I. 10 Where as þe seyd William Paston, by assignement and commaundement of þe seyd Duk of Norffolk..was þe styward of þe seyd Duc of Norffolk.

An early citation for the usage 'in opposition to the principal clause in the sentence' is:

(1535) Bible (Coverdale) 2 Esdras vii. 5 There are layed vp for vs dwellynges of health & fredome, where as we haue lyued euell.

So it appears that both meanings obtained from fairly early on, and the latter use is not a modern development.

  • The Bible citation seems to mean just "where".
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 10:56
  • I don't think so: reading the entire passage suggests something like you're promising us healthy and free dwellings but we have been living wickedly? (see here, for example.) Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 11:10
  • I don't see wickedly, though.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 11:19
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    Euell is 'evil' (see this), hence 'wickedly'. Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 11:25
  • The first citation does not allow any interpretation, because it's missing the prior or later context (you might assume the usage is clear and I'm ignorant). The second interpretation might mean wherupon, that is, they were offered something, took it, and abused it, no? Suppose the OED confered with the source of the translation. Then the big question is, does the same ambiguity exist in Latin?
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 21:33

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