"whatever did we do before XYZ thing existed?"

I heard this statement in a sentence and found it weird because I heard such a thing for the first time. Is it correct? What does it mean? And could you provide more examples of such sentences.

Later, I read a similar sentence in my book:

"What do these thunderstorms care if we have a king on board? "

Here, I understand that the speaker is trying to convey that the thunderstorms don't care if the king is on the ship. However I am not sure about the sentence especially the part "What do".


In OP's first example, whatever is a more emphatic alternative to what. It might still be a genuine enquiry, but that more emphatic form is more likely in a rhetorical question - with the speaker simply making the point that before XYZ was available, the (contextually-relevant) things we could do were severely restricted, or non-existent.

The second example is definitely rhetorical, with the speaker effectively just asserting that thunderstorms don't care who's on the ship. Which is blindingly obvious anyway, since non-sentient things like thunderstorms don't and can't care about anything. But exactly the same basic syntax applies to the extremely common rhetorical question...

What do I care?

...which never expects an answer, and always means I don't care at all!

Note that what in the "care" examples is effectively an optional element that could be understood as meaning what amount, or to what extent. But exactly the same meanings could be expressed as straightforward rhetorical questions...

Do these thunderstorms care if we have a king on board?
Do I care?

...where in both cases, the "answer" (which the speaker isn't expecting you to actually give) is No!

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  • 1
    Shouldn't the rhetorical question be: "What do I care for?" – Archer Jan 29 '19 at 16:20
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    No. A rhetorical question simply means a question where the "expected answer" should be obvious to both speaker and addressee, and thus doesn't need to be stated. Obviously you couldn't just start a conversation by going up to someone and saying What do I care?, because there has to be some prior context for it to refer to - whatever someone else has just told you or asked about, where you're effectively saying I don't care at all about that! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 29 '19 at 16:31

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