Grammar-QuizzesNoun Phrases › Wh-ever Phrases

Wh-ever Phrases

Refer to any one

girls gossiping
 

 

Whoever as Subject of a Clause

WHOEVER

Whoever means "it doesn't matter who" or "any person who". Whoever is singular in agreement with the verb. It is called a "fused relative" because the pronoun (whoever) is fused (joined) with a relative pronoun. Compare:   We avoid anyone who gossips. [antecendent noun + relative clause] We avoid whoever gossips. [fused relative; whoever = anyone + who]  The structure is a noun phrase that contains a relative clause.

SUBJECT  PREDICATE COMPLEMENT 
NOUN PHRASE VERB NP

Whoever wants to know

"a fused relative"

Whoever is:

— subject of the main clause and

— subject of the relative clause

can ask

me for the truth. 

OTHER WORDING

Anyone who wants to know

pronoun  + relative clause

can ask

me for the truth. 

WORDING NOT USED

*Whoever

*Who wants to know

*Any wants to know

*Any person

can ask

me for the truth. 

WHOEVER / WHOMEVER

The nominative (subjective) form of this pronoun is whoever. The accusative (objective) form is whomever. Determining which case to use can be problematic when the pronoun is the subject of the main clause but the object of the phrase, or vice versa. When such a conflict occurs some grammarians advise choosing the case that is compatible within the phrase. Other grammarians advise using whoever when in doubt.

SUBJECT  PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
NOUN PHRASE VERB NP

Whomever she gossips about

Whoever she gossips about

Whoever is:

— subject of the main clause but

— object of the relative clause

can ask

me for the truth. 

OTHER WORDING

Any person whom she gossips about

Any person to whom she gossips

can ask

me for the truth. 

WORDING NOT USED

*Whomever

*Anyone 

*To any person you talk

can ask

me for the truth. 

 

avoid (VP) – stay away from, can't stand

fused (Adj) – joined together

gossip (N) – second or third- hand stories about other people, which may be untrue or inaccurate and are likely harmful

vice versa (NP) – the other way around; in reverse order as was stated

Huddleston "The fused relative construction" 12 §6.3.

Garner 862 — If the word that follows whoever is a verb use whoever. If it is not a verb,  use whomever. If unsure, use whoever.  See Grammar Notes below.

 

 

 

"Whomever" as Object of a Verb

 

The objective pronoun whomever can be used as the object, the complement to the verb. In formal usage, whomever is used when it functions as both the object of the main clause and object of the relative clause. Whoever is also commonly used.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT / OBJECT
NP VERB NOUN PHRASE

He

told

whomever he wanted to tell. 

"a fused relative"

Whomever is:

object of the main clause and

object of the relative clause

She

told

whoever he wanted to tell. 

(informal, preferred as a simpler form by some)

He

 

told

anyone whom he wanted to tell. 

pronoun + a relative clause

 

Choosing whomever or whoever is problematic when the pronoun whomever is the object of the main clause but the subject of the relative clause. The traditional rule is: use whoever when it is followed by a verb and use whomever when not followed by a verb. Use whoever when in doubt.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT / OBJECT
NP VERB NOUN PHRASE

He

told

whomever wanted to know. 

"a fused relative"

Whomever is:

object of the main clause but

subject of the relative clause

She

told

whoever wanted to know. 

(informal but preferred as a simpler form by some)

He

told

whomever.  (anyone, everyone)

(This shortened phrase is informal usage)

 

Huddleston "The fused relative construction" 12 §6.3.

 

 

 
WHOMEVER

A preposition is usually complemented by an accusative/objective pronoun. However, if the object of the pronoun is a noun phrase (NP) that includes a relative clause, there are two solutions: (1) choose the case that is compatible within the sub-clause or phrase before considering the main clause; or (2) use whoever (which is a small error of informality.)

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT / OBJECT
NP VERB PREP + NP

She

talked

to whomever she wanted to talk.

Whomever is:

object of the preposition and

object of the relative clause

She

talked

to whomever.  "anyone"

(accusative "objective" pronoun)

WHOEVER / WHOMEVER

When a preposition is complemented by a pronoun that functions as the subject of the noun phrase, then it may be confusing whether to use an objective or subjective pronoun. In such a case either whoever or whomever can be used.                                                                                                                   

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT / OBJECT
NP VERB PREP + NP

She

talked

to whoever wanted to talk.

Whoever is:

object of the preposition but

subject of the relative clause

She

talked

to whomever wanted to talk.

 

 

complement – an element that is required to complete the meaning of another element in the clause, for example,  He likes milk. The verb likes is complemented by (completed by) the noun milk.

In current linguistic description, a preposition is not limited to just an object noun as its complement.  A preposition can be followed by a number of words, phrases and structures. See preposition complements.

(Garner 862) (Huddleson 12 §6.1–3) (Lunsford 167) (Swan 625)    See Grammar Notes / Works Cited section below. 

 

 

 

 

"Whoever" Phrase

Shift emphasis elsewhere

 

 

Shifting emphasis to another part of the sentence

USUAL WORD ORDER

Usually, we focus on the person doing the action. However, we can shift the focus by isolating information that we want to emphasize.

EMPHASIS ACTION OTHER
SUBJ VERB COMPLEMENT

You

told

my secret to someone [who was jealous

You

will bake

something [that will be delicious.]

SHIFTED EMPHASIS

A a wh-phrase can be used to package up content in a clause so that emphasis can be placed elsewhere in the clause. Below, a wh-phrase is followed by a be verb and a modifier.

PACKAGED iNFORMATION STATE EMPHASIS
SUBJ WH-EVER-PHRASE BE ADJ / MODIFIER

Whomever you told my secret to

Anyone to whom you told my secret

was

jealous. 

Whatever you bake

Anything that you bake   

will be

delicious.  

 

 

See Cleft Clauses for information packaging.

 

 

 

 

"Whatever" Phrase

Express "free choice" or "all"

 

 

Whatever Phrases  (nonpersonal)

WHATEVER

Whatever means It doesn't matter what, any thing that, the unknown thing that and is singular in agreement with the verb. The noun phrase ("fused-relative") may function as the subject or object of the clause.

SUBJECT (NP) VERB PHRS. COMPLEMENT

Whatever he says

is

true.  (Adj)

Whatever you want

will will be done.

 

SUBJECT (NP) VERB OBJECT (NP)

You

can have

whatever you please.

whatever you wish.

whatever you like.

whatever you want.

ANY THING

A similar meaning may be expressed as anything [that + clause]                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

SUBJECT (NP) VERB PHRS. COMPLEMENT

Anything  that he says

All  that he says

is

true. (Adj)

Anything  that you want

All  that you want

will be done.

 

SUBJECT (NP) VERB OBJECT (NP)

You

can have

anything that you please.

anything that you wish

anything that you like

anything that you want

 

 

 

 

 

"Whichever" / "Whatever" as Determiners

Express free choice "any one"

 

 

 

Whichever Phrases

DETERMINER

Whichever and whatever can also function as a determiners. In the examples below, they express a meaning of "free choice" or "no particular one".

SUBJECT OF MAIN CLAUSE

Whichever book you read will tell you the same.

Whatever book you read will tell you the same.

OBJECT OF MAIN CLAUSE

You may have whichever one you want.

You may have whatever one you want.

ANY PERSON

A similar meaning may be expressed as any person / thing [that + clause]

SUBJECT OF MAIN CLAUSE

Any book (that) you read will tell you the same.

 

OBJECT OF MAIN CLAUSE

You may have any one (that) you want.  

 

Also see A Determiner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"However" Phrases

Express "any manner"

 

 

 

However Phrases

HOWEVER

However means "it doesn't matter how", "any way that" and is singular in agreement with the verb. The noun phrase ("fused-relative") may function as the subject or object of the clause.

SUBJECT (NP) VERB PHRS. COMPLEMENT  (Adj / DO)

However you dress

always looks

good.  NP

 

You

can explain

however you want.   

ANY WAY

A similar meaning may be expressed as in any way that (PP).

SUBJECT (NP) VERB PHRS. COMPLEMENT  (Adj / DO)

Any way you dress

always looks

good.  NP

 

You

can explain

in any manner (that) you want.

 

 

 

However Phrases

HOWEVER

However can also function as a degree adverb that modifies an adjective or an adverb. However + adjective or however + adverb expresses a meaning of concession  "though" "even if".

MAIN CLAUSE ADVEREB–DEGREE

She'll never be quiet

however much she tries.
(as much/hard as she tries)
however + adverb

You cannot buy true friendship

however rich you are. 
(as rich as you are; even if you are rich)
 however + adjective

He cannot hide his dishonesty

however cleverly he speaks.
(even though he speaks cleverly)
 however + adverb

ANY WAY

A similar meaning may be expressed as "no matter how", "even if" or "as much as" (PP).                                                                                                                                                                        

MAIN CLAUSE ADVEREB–DEGREE

She'll never be quiet

no matter how much she tries.

(as much as she tries)

You cannot buy true friendship

no matter how rich you are.  
(even if you are very
)

He cannot hide his dishonesty

no matter how cleverly he speaks.
(even if he speaks very cleverly

 

See Huddleston "Adverbial modifiers of adjectives and adverbs" 6 §7.2.

 

 

 

 

Wh-ever + Clause

Initial vs final placement

 

 

 

Clause Position

INITIAL SENTENCE POSITION

use a commaAn object wh-ever noun phrase may be placed before the main clause (set off by a comma) for emphasis.

Whichever one you want, you can have. 

Whenever you please, you can phone me

Wherever we went, people talked about us.

However you travel, it will take a day to get there

FINAL SENTENCE POSITION

don't use a commaA wh-ever phrase may be placed after the verb.  In both initial and final positions, the wh-ever clause functions as the complement to the verb.

You can have whichever one you want. (any one that)

You can phone me whenever you please.  (any time that)

People talked about us wherever we went (any place that)

It will take a day to get there however you travel(any manner that)

 

 

 

Rewording Wh-ever Clauses

WH-EVER CLAUSE

These sentences can be rephrased by returning the words to standard order.

Whoever telephones, (you) tell them I am out.   (Any person who, no matter who)

Whoever you are, I'm not opening the door.   (No matter who, regardless of who)

Whatever your reason is, (you) make sure it is a good one.    (No matter what, regardless of what)

Whatever she said to you, you can believe. (No matter what)

CLAUSE REPHRASED

When the clause is returned to standard word order, it may be necessary to add or delete words.

Tell them whoever telephones that I am out.  (direct object)

Tell any  person who telephones that I am out.

I'm not opening the door for whoever you are. (indirect object)

I'm not opening the door no matter who you are

Make sure your reason is good, whatever it is.¹  (modifying clause)

Make sure your reason is good, no matter what it is.

You can believe whatever she said to you(direct object)

You can believe any/something that she said to you

 

¹ This modifier is actually misplaced. It modifies reason. However, the correct placement produces an awkward sound sentence:  Make sure your reason, whatever it is, is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wh–ever

Determiner

Take hichever one you want.
 

 

Wh-ever as a determiner to a noun

WH–EVER

In these sentences, whichever and whatever function as determiners — any/some in a modifying clause.

Whatever occasion arrives, she bakes. 

Whatever reasons she had, she went out. 

Whichever day you choose, just let us know.  
 

REPHRASED

A similar meaning may be expressed with any.

She bakes for any occasion that arrives.

She went out for any reason that she had.

Let us know any day that you choose.

 

A Determiner are words that come before nouns such as: a, an, one, some, any, this, that, these, those, much many, my, you, ours, few, less, several, all, both, etc.)

 

 

 

 
ADVERB (IN AN ADVERBIAL PHRASE)

In these sentences, whichever and whatever are more like adverbs in phrases (telling when, where, why or what for). Note that the noun is the object of a prepositional phrase.

Whatever the occasion, she bakes.  What for?

Whatever the reason, she went out.  Why?

Whichever the day, just let us know.   When?

REPHRASED

A similar meaning may be expressed with prepositional phrase using for.

She bakes for some/any occasion

She went out for some/any reason.  

Just let us know on which day / in which month / at which time 

 

 

 

 

 

Commonly Confused Words

Homonyms, Expressions & Slang

 

 

 

Whoever vs. Who ever!

WH–QUESTIONS + EVER

In these questions, ever is used to express surprise or unexpected occurrence. The words in these expressions resemble the wh-ever words, but have different meanings. 

Who ever is that? (surprise, curiosity)

 Who is that, I wonder.

What ever have you done? (dissatisfaction, anger)

What did you do? It's not what I expected. 

How ever did you do that? (surprise, admiration)

How did you do that?  I am amazed.   

Why ever didn't you tell me you were unhappy?  (surprise, disappointment) 

Why didn't you tell me? It was expected of you.    

WH–EVER  PHRASES

The wh-ever words below introduce modifying clauses and express "any" or "It doesn't matter who, what, when, where or how".

Whoever that is tell them to come back later.  (no matter who)

Whatever you've done we'll be excited to see.  (no matter what)

However you choose to do it is all right with us.  (any manner that)

 

 

 

 

 

However vs. However 

HOWEVER (ADV)

However is sometimes used with the meaning of no matter how; any manner.   (adverb)

However she dresses, she always looks stylish.  (no matter how)

We can get this done however you want to do it.  (no matter how / in any manner)

HOWEVER (CONJ)

However is also used with the meaning of but. (conjunction for contrast)

She wanted to get dressed up. However, the event was casual.

We can get this done; however, he doesn't want to.

 

 

 

 

Whatever - Slang

FINISHED TALKING ABOUT IT

Whatever is often used in an argument to concede (admit but not admit) so that the argument will be over. The speaker avoids an argument, "agree to disagree".

"You put the DVD into the wrong drive."
"Oh, whatever. "  (WEV in text messaging)

 

FINISHED LISTENING

Whatever is used to end / leave / escape a conversation that is becoming too long with unnecessary or personally irrelevant information. "Enough"

"Look, if you don't put the soap in first and then add the clothes, you'll get bleach spots on your colored clothing and you don't want that, do you?"
"Whatever..."  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

babyfood
 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

Whatever is the reason, my baby doesn't want to eat.

 

 

You told my secret to whoever 

"Who(m)ever sounds awkward at the end of the clause. We expect more details.

You told my secret to whomever asked you.  

The pronoun "whomever" is not the object of the preposition “to”; the entire relative clause is. Use the nominative/accusative pronoun that is grammatical within the relative clause.  Some grammarians prefer not to use "whomever"  at all.

SOLUTION

For whatever reason, my baby doesn't want to eat. (for some / any reason that)

Whatever the reason (is), she doesn't want to eat. (no matter what the reason that)

She doesn't want to eat for some reason(an unknown reason)

She doesn't want to eat for any reason(no reason exists) 

You told my secret to whomever. (Accusative (object) pronoun complements preposition.)

You told my secret to anyone / everyone. (Rephrase with an indefinite pronoun.)

The entire relative clause complements (completes) the preposition.

You told my secret to [whoever asked you].

You told my secret to [whomever you met].

See who v. whom in a relative clause.

 

complement (V) — in grammar, a word or structure that is required or expected to complete the meaning of a clause.

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

 

 

 

Various Resources

LUNSFORD & CONNORS / SWAN / GARNER HUDDLESTON & PULLUM

 

Garner in Garner's Modern American Usage on whoever and whomever:

"Here's the traditional rule about the nominative whoever and objective whomever. If the word that completes the sytax after -ever is a verb, the correct choice is whoever <They praise whoever prerofmrs well>—even if there are a few intervening  words <whoever, under these conditions, can deliver the goods on time will win the contract>. If the word that sytactically follows the -ever isn't  a verb, the correct choice is whomever <he criticizes whomever he dislikes>—once again, even if there are a few intervening words <we'll help whoever, among the class members, the teachers recomment>. If you're unsure of the correct word, choose whoever, even when the objective whomever would be strictly correct, the whoever is as worst a casualism (not bad in formal contexts).  (862)

 

Lunsford and Connors in The New St. Martin's Handbook state that the case of the pronoun whoever, whatever, wherever, or whenever should be compatible with the clause it is in. (167)

1. The center is open to [whoever whomever wants to use it.]

2. The center is open to [whomever whoever they choose to let in.]

"The case of a pronoun in a dependent clause is determined by its function in the clause, no matter how that clause functions in the sentence. If the pronoun acts as a subject or subject complement in the clause, use who or whoever. If the pronoun acts as an object, use whom or whomever."

 

Swan in Practical English Usage (2009)states that the case of the pronoun whoever, whatever, wherever, and whenever can be the subject of object of the verb in the other clause. Use whoever for the objective case as well as the subjective case.  (625.3)

3. Whoever told you that was lying. [subject of was lying]

4. I'll marry whoever I like. [object of marry]

Swan adds "Note that whomever is not used in modern English." (625.2)

 

Oxford Guide to English Usage (1983) advises whoever whoever for both objective and subjective case. (p. 153)

 

Also see "What" Phrases and Grammar Notes for grammar sources.

Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language(2002), refer to whoever, whatever, wherever, and whenever structures as fused relatives (12 §6).

"The fused relative is equivalent not to a relative clause which we hold most dear but to the NP [noun phrase] containing it that which we hold most dear.

Contrast:

We cannot abandon that which we hold dear. [antecendent + rel. clause]

We cannot abandon what we hold dear. [fused relative]  what = that + which

 

A Fused Relative

In the examples below, expressions with whoever, whatever, wherever, whenever are anlyzed as noun phrases, in which the antecedent [a noun] and relative pronoun have been fused into one word.

1. I spent [whatever he gave me].  I spent that which he gave me.  [whatever = the unknown something + that]

2. [Whatever he gave me] was spent.  That which he gave me was spent.

3. [Whoever called me] left no message. The person who called left no message. [whoever = the unknown person + who]

3. I'll go [wherever you go.]  I'll go the place that you go. [wherever = the unknown place + that]

 

Problematic Situations ("clash")

"In constructions with personal who and whoever, the pronoun has to satisfy the case requirements of both the relative clause and the matrix [main] clause in which the whole NP is functioning." 

18-i  [Whoever is reponsible for the damage] must pay for it.   Subj. – Subj.

18-ii He will criticise [whomever she brings home]. Obj. –Obj.

18-iii [Whomever he marries] will have to be very tolerant   Obj. – Subj.

18-iv She lunches with [whomever is going her way after morning classes].  Sub.j – Obj.

When the pronoun does not satisfy the case requirement of both the main clause and the relative clause (18iii and 18iv) then a "clash" occurs.

"Whoever would be better in both cases."  12 §6.3

 

 

 
  • .
  • Fowler's Modern English Usage. Edited by R. W. Burchfield and H. W. Fowler, revised 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2004.
  • Garner's Modern American Usage. By Bryan A. Garner, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • Oxford Guide to English Usage:The Essential Guide to Correct English. Edited by Edmund Weiner, OUP, 198.3

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Gossip

gossip
 

 

Complete the clause with wh-ever.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or the "check 1-12" button at the bottom.

 

1.
Some people gossip about anyone they want.



 gossip (N) –talking about personal or private affairs of others

2.
They think they can talk about private matters anytime they please.


3.
They don't think that idle talk affects other people's lives for some reason.


4.
They take away some small amount of privacy for any person they discuss.


5.
They are gossiping about movie stars anytime I see them.

6.
I meet people who are curious no matter where I go.


7.
We feel like old friends no matter how long it has been since we last saw each other.


8.
Let me know how to get to any place you all choose to meet.


9.
He calls me with the latest news from the hospital no matter the time of day.

10.
I get worried any time he calls.


11.
Be sure that you truly like one of these names you will choose for you baby.


12.
Be sure that you truly like any name you choose for you baby.