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From Middle English whennes, from Old English hwanon (with adverbial genitive -s), related to hwonne (whence when). Analyzable as when +‎ -s.



whence (not comparable)

  1. (archaic, formal or literary) From where; from which place or source.
    Antonym: whither
    Whence came I?
    "Pork" comes from French, whence we get most of our modern cooking terms.
    Go to whence you came!
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, John 8:14, column 1:
      Ieſus anſwered, and ſaid vnto them, Though I beare record of my ſelfe, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I goe: but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I goe.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “A Further Account of Glubbdubdrib. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume II, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part III (A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdribb, Luggnagg, and Japan), page 108:
      I could plainly diſcover from whence one Family derives a long Chin; why a ſecond hath abounded with Knaves for two Generations, and Fools for two more; why a third happened to be crack-brained, and a fourth to be Sharpers.
    • 1818, [Mary Shelley], chapter III, in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. [], volume I, London: [] [Macdonald and Son] for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, →OCLC, pages 81–82:
      Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?
    • 1881–1882, Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Sea Chest”, in Treasure Island, London, Paris: Cassell & Company, published 14 November 1883, →OCLC, part I (The Old Buccaneer), page 29:
      [W]hat greatly encouraged me, it was in an opposite direction from that whence the blind man had made his appearance, and whither he had presumably returned.
    • 1883, A. E. Housman, Fragment of a Greek Tragedy:
      O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
      Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
      Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
      To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
    • 1885, Richard F[rancis] Burton, transl. and editor, “The Seventh Voyage of Sindbad the Seaman”, in A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, now Entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night [], Shammar edition, volume VI, [London]: [] Burton Club [], →OCLC, page 71:
      [] But when I had bestridden the plank, quoth I to myself, "Thou deservest all that betideth thee. All this is decreed to me of Allah (whose name be exalted!), to turn me from my greed of gain, whence ariseth all that I endure, for I have wealth galore."
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, “A Discovery”, in Moonfleet, London, Toronto, Ont.: Jonathan Cape, published 1934, page 47:
      At first I could not tell what this new sound was, nor whence it came, and now it seemed a little noise close by, and now a great noise in the distance. And then it grew nearer and more defined, and in a moment I knew it was the sound of voices talking.
    • 1936, Robert Frost, “The Vindictives”, in A Further Range:
      They swore all the gold should go back
      Deep into the earth whence it came.

Usage notes[edit]

  • This word is uncommon in contemporary usage; from where is now usually substituted (as in the example sentence: Where did I come from? or From where did I come?). Whence is now mainly encountered in older works and in poetic or literary writing. As a result of the obsolescence of the older directional verb system, words like whence and its antonym whither are sometimes used interchangeably as hypercorrect synonyms of where.
  • From whence has a strong literary precedent, appearing in Wyclif's Bible translation, Shakespeare and the King James Bible, as well as in the writings of numerous Victorian-era writers. In recent times, however, it has been criticized as redundant by some usage commentators.

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  1. (literary, poetic) Used for introducing the result of a fact that has just been stated; thence
    The work is slow and dangerous, whence the high costs.
    I scored more than you in the exam, whence we can conclude that I am better at the subject than you are.


Related terms[edit]


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