Source: Russian media is spinning the downing of a Russian jet fighter into a wider conspiracy theory


In Given the alternatives, that’s good news: It means that Russia is unlikely to respond to the Turks militarily and unlikely to drag NATO into broader conflict. It could also mean that Putin still hopes to be part of a larger coalition in Syria, or that he still wants a role in whatever Western diplomatic effort might eventually bring the war to an end. After all, he needs evidence for another one of his narratives: That he has brought back his country’s “superpower” status and its international influence.

Don't know about you, but my brain really wants to plug that in there to make the clause sound like this:

he still wants a role in whatever Western diplomatic effort that might eventually bring the war to an end

whatever Western diplomatic effort (A) being what he still wants a role in and might eventually bring the war to an end (B) a descriptive phrase that tells us what kind of Western diplomatic effort he still wants a role in. So, effectively my rewritten clause has the following structure:

he still wants a role in A that is B.

And it has the following semantics: he doesn't care what the diplomatic effort is going to be except that it be one that might bring the war to an end. That's the sentence I would have no problem understanding, but they don't have that included in there. Thus, A in the original clause is whatever Western diplomatic effort might eventually bring the war to an end.

So, my question is really twofold: are my version and the original one the same where the only thing that's a little different is the grammar or do the two differ significantly? And if they are different, how are the semantic structures of the two clauses different? In either case, back your thoughts up with a good explanation. Help me make sense of this mess.

  • 6
    A very good question about a subtle point. My short answer is that you don't need that, because of the whatever: "whatever X" basically means "any X that". Whatever/whichever/whoever essentially "steals" the that or which or who that would have appeared later in the sentence, e.g. "The thing that is in the box" -> "Whatever is in the box". "The person who eats fish" -> "Whoever eats fish". "The one which you choose" -> "Whichever one you choose". But I admit I don't have a reference for this or a good way to phrase the rule. – stangdon Nov 30 '15 at 18:27
  • 2
    @stangdon You nailed it. Whatever is a "relativizer" just like which or who or that, so that function is already present at the beginning of the clause--you don't need a second one later. Post it, Danno! – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 30 '15 at 19:19

Q: Should we or can we rewrite ... whatever Western diplomatic effort might eventually bring the war to an end as ... whatever Western diplomatic effort that might eventually bring the war to an end?

My short answer: we should not, and in fact may not be able to rewrite it so, because with that that, some people will consider the sentence ungrammatical.

Here is a longer discussion. The first part shows that whatever is fine without that. The second part discusses why whatever may be considered wrong with that when being used like this.

'whatever' in the fused relative construction

According to The Cambridge Grammar of English Language (commonly known as CGEL), on page 1068, there is a discussion on the fused relative construction, some examples are labeled the simple series (a. examples), and others the -ever series (b. examples). Here are some of them:

[1] i a. I spent what he gave me.
[1] i b. I spent whatever he gave me.
[1] ii a. I gave him what money I had.
[1] ii b. I gave him whatever money I had.

Some equivalent pairs are given. They could demonstrate what "fused relative" is:

[2] i. It would mean abandoning that which we hold most dear.​ [antecedent + clause]
[2] ii. It would mean abandoning what we hold most dear.​    [fused relative]
[3] i. The dog quickly ate the scraps that I'd left on my plate.
[3] ii. The dog quickly ate what I had left on my plate.

With those examples, I hope that you can see that the whatever part in your original is correct without that.

'whatever' = 'all that' or 'anything that'

Fowler wrote in his A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, "whatever (or whatsoever) means not any, but any that, and whatever that is as absurd as any that that."
(from its The Classic Fist Edition on Google Books)

The Usage Note from American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition (via The Free Dictionary) mentions the same thing:

· When a noun followed by a restrictive clause is preceded by whichever or whatever, it is regarded as incorrect to introduce the clause with that in formal writing: whatever book that you want to look at; one should write instead Whatever book you want to look at will be sent to your office or Whichever book costs less (not that costs less) is fine with us.

I believe that your example follows their advice or a similar style guide.

To illustrate the point more clearly, here are three examples given by Fowler:

  • His cynical advice shows that whatever concession to Democracy may seem to be involved in his words, may not be of permanent inconvenience. (NOT ... whatever concession to Democracy that may seem ...)
  • Keep close in touch with Him in whatsoever creed or form brings you nearest to Him. (NOT ... whatsoever creed or form that brings ...)
  • NOT THIS: They see in the shell, the gun--in whatever component, big or small, upon which their attention is concentrated--the essence of all that matters.
  • BUT THIS: They see in the shell, the gun--in whatever component, big or small, their attention is concentrated upon--the essence of all that matters.

To sum it up, your original sentence is okay, you don't need that. If you added that, your sentence may look ungrammatical to many.

And even though I found a lot of examples of whatever that used for whatever (that is, not the cases when that is used as a normal pronoun, as in Whatever that means) both on the web and in books, I'd recommend against using it because, as Fowler said, whatever means any that.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.