Weather - whether

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Weather and whether form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

These two homophones are wrongly written by many schoolchildren. Students in Higher education should not confuse them. One reason for the confusion is given at W - Wh.

  • Weather is the current natural condition of the air that affects us, like sunshine, rain or snow. It includes temperatures outdoors, wind and so on. The permanent condition is called 'climate'. There is a 'weather forecast' in most news broadcasts.
    • Weather is most commonly a noun. There is also a verb, 'to weather', which has several connected meanings: one can 'weather' materials by exposing them to the changes in weather; a sailor can 'weather a storm', by surviving it, and a politician can figuratively 'weather a crisis. The participle weathered used as an adjective means 'affected by exposure to weather', and most commonly means something like 'not new': a house of 'weathered brick' has had the edges of the smoothed down and made less sharp by the long action of rain and wind. The process is mostly seen as aesthetically pleasing, although sometimes causing practical problems.
  • Whether is a wh- word. It has several uses in grammar, as adjective, pronoun or conjunction. The basic meaning is 'which of the two'. (Etymologically, it is connected with 'who' and 'other'.)
    • In modern practice, whether is commonly used without the idea of 'two'. In interrogative use, it expresses (as questions must) doubt. This is why it is used as a conjunction introducing an indirect question: "He asked her whether she would have lunch." The element of 'two' is often shown by the question "whether or not".
  • There is also a kind of sheep (a male, usually a castrated male) called a wether. (The sheep that leads a flock is called a bell-wether, because it carries a bell whose ringing tells the shepherd where the flock is. This is used as a metaphor in politics.) Most students will never need this word; some, unfortunately, will write it in error.

Both weather and whether are among the 117 mis-spellings listed as 'Common difficulties' in the section on 'Spelling' within 'Writing' in UEfAP.