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As a midwestern American (Iowa), I want to understand the history, reason, and mechanics of why southern Americans say "whenever" when the word "when" would suffice.

For instance:

An Iowan (and the rest of the West and Midwest, probably) would say:

"When I was a child I loved candy."

But, someone from Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina are more likely to say:

"Whenever I was a child I loved candy."


Where I grew up we were taught that "whenever" is used to describe an unknown when, either in the present or past. The other situation where whenever was appropriate is when discussing a "when" that occurred multiple times.

Ex 1: (past repeated)

"Whenever he decided he wanted to dress like a girl, he would put on his pink tutu and just dance the day away."

In this tense, whenever indicates that something was repeatedly done but specific dates and times aren't being offered. This is a generic, summary "when".

Ex 2: (future unknown non-repeat)

Jim: Hey, what time are you leaving today?

Bill: It depends.

Jim: Well, whenever you decide to go, can you pick us up some milk up from the store before you come back?

In my understanding, both of these two examples would be considered correct usage of "whenever".

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    Your question’s title singles out Christians, but I don’t see any justification in the question’s text that faith has any bearing on this particular turn of phrase. Are you saying that others in the American deep south - atheists, for example - speak differently?
    – Lawrence
    Mar 21 '21 at 16:13
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    @Lawrence I would think that people who believe in the Cycle of Karma and Rebirth would be more likely than Christians to say "whenever I was a child".
    – BoldBen
    Mar 21 '21 at 20:27
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    @Lawrence Not at all. I can't say for certain if Muslims, or Hindus, or Satanists in the South use this terminology. The question is from the vantage point of someone has first-hand experience hearing it in Christian churches in the deep south. I suspect it is a colloquialism that started in the Northeastern churches in the 1800s around the time of the "2nd Great Awakening", and that became common usage by the 1960s throughout the deep south. But that's just conjecture on my part. Mar 27 '21 at 12:43
  • Thank you for replying. That’s very interesting background information.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 27 '21 at 16:02

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