Weather or Whether or Wether: What’s the Difference?

Weather or whether or wether? If you’re one of the 1.3 billion people around the world that speak English as a first or second language, you’re probably aware of its many idiosyncrasies. One of them is a fondness for homonyms.

Those sound-alikes lead to all kinds of confusing sentences, like:

You’ll have to find out whether or not the weather is warm enough to leave the wether outside.

If you understood that sentence, you’re in the minority. Just knowing when to use weather or whether is a challenge. But if you didn’t, have hope. Here’s an explanation of the difference between those three oft-confused words and when – and how – to use them.

Wether Meaning: What Is It?

When most people encounter the word wether in an article or other text, they usually assume that it’s a misspelling of either weather or whether. And most of the time, they’re right.

But wether is a word, too. Just not one you’ll see used that often. A wether is a proper name for a castrated male sheep or goat. As it’s not used outside of the farming and agricultural industries much, most people aren’t familiar with it.

Wether – for you language aficionados out there – is classified as a common noun and a gender-specific noun, like other animal names such as rooster and hen. The following are examples of its appropriate use:

Examples:

  • You’ll find plenty of farmers eager to show off a prized wether at this year’s farm expo.
  • As the leader of the flock, the wether will lead the other sheep back home when called by a shepherd.
  • A wether will normally be more docile than the other rams in its group.

Whether Meaning: What Is It?

This version of the word is a conjunction, like the word “if”. But you can’t always use the two interchangeably. It is best used to indicate that more than one thing is possible, beyond a simple yes or no answer. This is why it’s quite common to see the word used to set up an indirect question, like when you’re trying to find out if something was going to happen or not.

Of the three homonyms, it’s the one people tend to use correctly most of the time (assuming they don’t accidentally botch the spelling). This may have something to do with how many different types of sentences you can include it in, unlike its two sound-alikes weather and wether. To demonstrate that, here are examples of how to use it:

Examples:

  • I wasn’t sure whether Christine was going to get to the airport on time, so I called her before I left.
  • Whether or not you want to acknowledge it, the truth isn’t alterable.
  • I had no way to know whether I stood any chance of winning the game today.

Weather Meaning: What Is It?

Last but not least, we have the word weather. And unlike the other two, it can be a noun or a verb, depending on how you use it. As a noun, it’s used to describe the status of the atmospheric conditions, like the temperature, humidity, or precipitation. But as a verb, it refers to withstanding or enduring something – like a storm or a confrontation – and how it affects the subject. Although that might sound a bit tricky, these three examples should make the proper use of weather quite clear:

Examples:

  • Please make sure the weather today will be clear and sunny, or you may want to bring an umbrella along with you.
  • If the ship is unable to weather the storm, the coast guard may have to evacuate its passengers.
  • Meteorologists still can’t predict the weather with complete certainty.

Weather or Whether or Wether: Which One Should You Use?

At this point, the differences between these three homonyms should be more than clear. But let’s go over it anyway. It’s easy to remember how to use wether or whether. Now that you know that the former refers to a castrated goat – you’re not likely to forget it. And even though remembering when to use weather or whether isn’t as simple, you can try this trick:

Poor weather will often produce waves in the sea – and just like the sea, weather is spelled with an “ea”.

As long as you can commit that little fact to memory, you shouldn’t ever confuse the two sound-alike words again.

Conclusion

At times, it seems as though the English language contains deliberate traps meant to confuse those who try to learn it. And, the use of homonyms falls into that category. Having multiple sound-alike words is just asking for trouble.

But in the case of these three sound-alikes, you shouldn’t have trouble ever again. That is unless you live on a farm or can’t remember the simple memory trick mentioned above. With that, using weather or whether should be a simple matter of knowing what you’re trying to say – and not letting your spell checker or autocorrect trip you up!


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