The Grammarphobia Blog

When do you need “whenever”?

Q: I recently came across this line in a computer book: “Most temporary files are automatically deleted whenever you close an application.” I was wondering if “when” should have been used instead of “whenever.”

A: I don’t think “whenever” is necessary in that sentence. A simple “when” would do.

“When” means “at what time” or “at the time that.” It’s an old word, dating back to the year 1000 or so, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Whenever,” a stronger word, means “at any time when” or “every time that” or “at whatever time, no matter when.” The OED says it came along in the late 1300s.

So the two aren’t interchangeable, and often “when” is enough. However, you’d want something stronger in a sentence like this: “I’ll be happy to see you whenever you can get away.”

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