Battling with English - part 3 (HPR Show 2751)

Dave Morriss


Table of Contents

Some word confusions

In this episode, the third of this series, I’m looking at some words that are sometimes used in the wrong places, often being confused one with another. These words are often particularly difficult to differentiate by people for whom English is not their first language.

Confusing been and being

These two words often sound similar, though, as you see, they have different spelling. They are often confused though, particularly by people learning English.

Both are forms of the verb to be.

been
meaning:(verb) past participle of be; often used after have
example 1: “I have been enjoying this week’s output from HPR.”
example 2: “The children were excited to find out if Santa Claus had been and left gifts.”
example 3: “Where have you been, I was expecting you 30 minutes ago!”
example 4: “I’ve been there and done that!”

being
meaning 1:(verb) present participle (usually end with -ing) of be
example 1: “He was being positively rude.”

meaning 2:(noun) existence; being alive; living
example 1: “Hacker Public Radio came into being at the end of 2007.”
example 2: “‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ is a 1984 novel by Milan Kundera”1
example 3: “Some of my readers may have an interest in being informed whether or no any portions of the Marshalsea Prison are yet standing.”2

meaning 3: the nature or essence of a person
example 1: “My father was the business brains behind it and this affected every fibre of his being.”
example 2: “I oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty with every fibre of my being.”

meaning 4:(noun) a real or imaginary living creature or entity, especially an intelligent one
example 1: “It is also a matter of how all living beings, not just human beings, live side by side.”
example 2: “The motif of alien beings peopling our planet is a very common one in science fiction.”

Example of what you should never write

It ended up been a waste of money.  ✖

The correct word to use rather than “been” is “being”.

It ended up being a waste of money.  ✔

The meaning here is that “it was a waste of money” or “looking back it has been a waste of money” (note the use of “has been”). The form of “being” here would be the present participle of the verb to be (meaning 1 above), whereas “been” is the past participle.


Confusing weather, wether, whether, wither and whither

The words weather, wether, and whether sound the same though their spellings are different, but mean very different things. The similar words wither and whither can also be confused with each other and with the previous group but mean different things.

weather
meaning 1:(noun) the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time as regards heat, cloudiness, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc.
example 1: “Scotland’s weather was remarkably hot in the summer of 2018”

meaning 2: Cold, wet, and unpleasant or unpredictable atmospheric conditions.
example 1: “The band of trees on the hill provide some protection from the weather

meaning 3:(modifier) Denoting the side from which the wind is blowing, especially on board a ship; windward.
example 1: “The side of tree trunks facing the prevailing wind and rain, the weather side, may be colonised by moisture-loving mosses and lichens”

meaning 4:(verb) To withstand or to endure
example 1: “The ship weathered the storm at anchor in a sheltered bay”

meaning 5:(verb) To erode
example 1: “The cliff was being weathered by the rough sea during the storm”

wether
meaning:(noun) a castrated ram (sheep) or billy (goat)
example 1: “Non-wethers tend to be smelly due to their scent glands.”

whether
meaning 1:(conjunction) expressing a doubt or choice between alternatives; similar to if
example 1: “No one has even taken the trouble to inquire whether I was alive or dead.”

meaning 2:(conjunction) expressing an enquiry or investigation (often used in indirect questions)
example 1: “She poured the milk into a mug, enquiring as to whether he would like some as well.”

meaning 3:(conjunction) indicating that a statement applies whichever of the alternatives mentioned is the case.
example 1: “Nor had she given any indication by letter whether she admitted or denied the charges.”

wither
meaning 1:(verb) become dry and shrivelled (relating to a plant)
example 1: “After all flowers have withered, cut off the entire stem.”

meaning 2:(verb) become shrunken or wrinkled from age or disease (relating to a part of the body)
example 1: “His body was wrinkled and withered, slightly bent over and hunched.”

meaning 3:(verb) fall into decay or decline
example 1: “For creativity is a muscle that must be worked or it will gradually atrophy and wither.”

meaning 4:(verb) humiliate (someone) with a scornful look or manner
example 1: “She withered him with a glance”

whither
meaning 1:(interrogative adverb) to what place or state (literary, archaic)
example 1:Whither are we bound?’”

meaning 2:(relative adverb) to which - with reference to a place (literary, archaic)
example 1: “One finds oneself walking mechanically to the tower of Belvedere Castle whither all other park visitors have gravitated like the ghouls in ‘Night of the Living Dead’”

Examples of what you should never write

Example 1

Lovely wither we’re having!  ✖

Somebody who enjoys shrivelling? Should have been:

Lovely weather we’re having!  ✔

Example 2

DuckDuckGo discussed and wether it personalizes searches  ✖

From the notes for HPR show 1416. The corrected version would read:

DuckDuckGo discussed and whether it personalizes searches  ✔

Example 3

…you don’t have to worry about whither you check your feeds on a desktop PC or on your phone.  ✖

From the notes for an HPR show; the (archaic) whither should have been whether.


  1. Wikipedia article on ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’

  2. From the preface to the 1857 edition of “Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens