where·​fore | \ ˈ(h)wer-ˌfȯr How to pronounce wherefore (audio) \

Definition of wherefore

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : for what reason or purpose : why



Definition of wherefore (Entry 2 of 2)

: an answer or statement giving an explanation : reason wants to know the whys and wherefores

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Wherefore and Shakespeare


When Shakespeare's Juliet asks, "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" she is not inquiring into her beloved's whereabouts. Rather she is asking why it is that Romeo must be Romeo, a member of the Montague family and, therefore, an enemy of Juliet's own family, the Capulets. Yet, wherefore does wherefore mean "why"? Starting in the early 13th century, a number of new words were formed by combining where with a preposition. In such words, where had the meaning of "what" or "which," giving the English language such adverbs as wherein ("in what"), whereon ("on what"), and wherefore ("for what"). English speakers have largely dropped the adverb wherefore in favor of why, but the noun wherefore, meaning "an answer or statement giving an explanation," continues to be used, particularly in the phrase "the whys and wherefores."

Examples of wherefore in a Sentence

Adverb it was getting late, and wherefore we decided to move on Noun demanded to know the whys and wherefores for the decision
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun As in most of Tim and Eric’s sketch humor, there are few whys and wherefores. Austin Considine, New York Times, "On ‘Beef House,’ Family Sitcoms Get the Tim and Eric Treatment," 26 Mar. 2020 Julian Fellowes, a master writer who understands so well all the peculiarities of time and place, manners and historical significance of the whys and wherefores of his fictional inhabitants, is to be applauded. Los Angeles Times, "Calendar Feedback Sun., Oct. 6, 2019," 11 Oct. 2019 In addition to gleaning the why and wherefore behind America’s foundational document, teenage listeners will meet up with the Declaration of Independence and a roster of seminal Supreme Court decisions. Louis Bayard, New York Times, "Audiobooks for Summer Trips With the Kids," 28 May 2018 The book casts its spell in revealing the whys and wherefores of the killings, as investigated by Burke’s onetime high school classmate, Rob Barrett, a Boston FBI agent whom Burke likes nothing better than to humiliate. Lloyd Sachs, chicagotribune.com, "Crime fiction to heat up your summer reading list," 21 May 2018 Harris will explain the whys and wherefores of rituals and the choreography of services. Courant Community, "Community News For The South Windsor Edition," 5 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wherefore.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of wherefore


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1590, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for wherefore


Middle English wherfor, wherfore, from where, wher + for, fore for

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Time Traveler for wherefore

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The first known use of wherefore was in the 13th century

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Cite this Entry

“Wherefore.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wherefore. Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for wherefore


How to pronounce wherefore (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of wherefore

used in the past to mean "why"


where·​fore | \ ˈhwer-ˌfȯr How to pronounce wherefore (audio) , ˈwer- \

Kids Definition of wherefore

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