Etymology Usage

A whole other thing

Q: I’m arguing with someone who says “whole other thing” should be “whole different thing.” What do you think? Is “whole other” grammatical or not?

A: There’s nothing wrong with a phrase like “whole other thing” except, possibly, its informality. But not everybody would consider it informal.

In this construction, “whole” is an adverb meaning “wholly” or “entirely”; it modifies the adjective “other,” which has meant “different” or “additional” since Anglo-Saxon times.

So the phrases “whole other” and “whole different” are pretty much the same.

“Whole,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has been used as an adverb since at least as far back as the 1300s, but its use as an adverb is now obsolete except in certain phrases.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) says the adverbial use of “whole” is considered informal.

American Heritage gives the example “a whole new idea.” (So AH would also consider the phrases “whole other thing” and “whole different thing” informal English.)

But Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) has no such reservations. It treats the adverbial use of “whole” as standard English, giving as an example “a whole new age group.”

We’ve written posts on our blog in 2008 and 2011 about the phrase “whole nother,” which is a whole other thing.

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