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At school, I did a Chinese-English translation assignment and translated one of the sentences into English as follows:

He is always willing to take on whatever task assigned to him.

And my teacher changed "whatever" to "any" as in:

He is always willing to take on any task assigned to him.

I asked a friend who is a native-speaker of English for advice, and he said I could use "whatever" as long as I also used "is" behind "task":

He is willing to take on whatever task is assigned to him.

I understand that "whatever" can be a conjunction, a pronoun, and a determiner. It seems that my friend treats "whatever task is assigned to him" as a noun clause that functions as the object of preposition "on." I can understand this explanation.

However, my question lies in whether it is proper to use "whatever" as a determiner in this sentence. I know that both "any" and "whatever" can be determiners. When analyzing a sentence like "He is always willing to take on any task assigned to him," I think that the noun phrase "any task" is modified by a reduced adjective clause:

He is always willing to take on any task (which/that is) assigned to him.

If my reasoning stands, I can use "whatever" as a determiner before the noun "task" and use a reduced adjective clause to modify the noun phrase "whatever task":

He is always willing to take on whatever task (which/that is) assigned to him.

Is my reasoning correct? I would appreciate it very much if you can tell me what you think. Thank you!

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  • "Whatever" is always a determinative, either interrogative or relative: Whatever present you buy for him, he won't be satisfied / I'll accept whatever price you suggest.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 8:38
  • Note that the 'free choice' use of relative whatever, is very close in meaning to the any + integrated relative construction : You can buy whatever you like ~ You can buy anything that you like.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 9:42
  • Note that the noun clause does not function as the object of the preposition "on". "Take on" is a phrasal verb. Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:20
  • Any dictionary will tell you that 'whatever', like 'any', can be an adjective. It will even give you examples exactly like yours.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 9:34

1 Answer 1

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I agree with your friend.

Suppose we reorganised the sentence, like this:

  1. He is always willing to take on tasks - any assigned to him.
  2. He is always willing to take on tasks - whatever assigned to him.

This shows more clearly that any and whatever don't function the same way in the sentence. Sentence 1 is correct, on the assumption that any is an adjective referring back to the tasks. It is a shortened version of:

  • He is always willing to take on tasks - any (task) (which is) assigned to him.

Note that if we expand the sentence we can't just add "is". We need to add "which is". Any does not have the function of a relative pronoun in the sentence.

But sentence 2 is not correct. In sentence 2 we need to say, "whatever is assigned to him." Whatever functions now as a relative pronoun. It too refers to the tasks, but it is linking to a new clause that needs a verb. Sentence 2 is wrong for the same reason that the next example would be wrong, if the (bracketed) verb was missing in the relative clause.

  • He is always willing to take on tasks which (are) assigned to him.
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  • Thank you so much for such a detailed and clear explanation! Now I know better where I was wrong about how to use "whatever."
    – Shiny Jade
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 6:27

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