General Writing and Grammar Help/What - whatever


Dear Ted:

Is there any difference between "what" and "whatever"?

If so, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

For instance, should I use "what" or "whatever" in the sentence below?

Take what / whatever you want.

Thank you,


Dear Paolo:

First, I thank you very much for the Christmas greeting e-card.  Both the card and your kind message lifted my spirits.  It is cold and gloomy outside, but I feel warm and sunny, as a result of your thoughtfulness.

[Note:  I have received three Christmas wishes from Allexperts questioners.  That has never happened before!]


Is there any difference between "what" and "whatever"?

If so, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

For instance, should I use "what" or "whatever" in the sentence below?

Take what / whatever you want.

*** Paolo, these word that end in "-ever" usually have a special meaning. There is a good explanation in the passage below -- taken from an online grammar site.  When an "-ever" word is used, it implies that you do not really CARE about the topic of the sentence.  That's why there is a very popular teenage response in this country:  Whatever!

EXAMPLE:  The professor tells a student who has not written the assigned essay, "You will fail my course!"  The student responds, "Whatever."  The student is saying, "I don't really care."

English Grammar
Whoever, whatever etc.

The words whoever, whatever, wherever, whichever, whenever and however have similar meanings to ‘it doesn’t matter who, what, which etc.,’ it may be. A word of this kind has a double function: it acts as a subject, object or adverb in its own clause. It also acts as a conjunction joining its clause to the rest of the sentence.
Whatever you may say I am not going to take him back. (= It doesn’t matter what you say, I won’t take him back.)
Wherever you go, I shall follow you. (It doesn’t matter where you go, I shall follow you.)
Whoever disobeys the law must be punished. (It doesn’t matter who disobeys the law, he/she must be punished.)
Keep calm, whatever happens.
However much he eats, he never gets fat.

*** In the sentence you wrote, either word can be used.  If I tell you to take WHAT you want, the implication is that I am offering a "gift" to you.  However, if I tell you to take WHATEVER you want, I am implying that the articles available for your choosing mean nothing to me. They are like trash.  You can take WHATEVER you want.

Also, the word "what" is more specific than "whatever," which is general or widespread.

If I had three books on a table, I would say, "Take what you want."  I am giving you a choice of one to three books.

If there are 200 books on the table, I would say, "Take what you want."  [Although I do not state this, my idea is that you may want one or a few of the books.]  If I say, "Take whatever you want," my implication is -- although I don't directly state it -- "I don't really care if you take none of the books OR if you take all 200 of them."

Another example:

I agree with WHAT Paolo says.  [Using "what" is specific.  The implication is that Paolo has just said something, and I agree with his statement.]

I agree with WHATEVER Paolo says.  ["Whatever" is very general.  I am not making a reference to anything specific that Paolo has said.]

*** There are two possible interpretations of what I just wrote above.  First, I am some sort of "yes man," and I always agree with Paolo.  His word is gold!

The second interpretation is that I don't really care what Paolo says.  I am "shrugging" off all his statements with a "whatever."

I know that this distinction is difficult.  The explanation is hard for me to write.  My advice is to use "whatever" very sparingly.  Most of the time you will want to be specific in your reference, and "what" is the proper word to use.

As the lazy college student would say, "Yeah!  Whatever!"


P. S.  I have a really bad headache.  I hope I haven't many any errors in my typing.

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Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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