whence

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raymondaliasapollyon

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

What does "whence" mean in the following?

They returned whence they had come.

Does the sentence mean "They returned from where they had come"?

I'd appreciate your help.
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes. There are six of these words:
    • whence = from where
    • hence = from here
    • thence = trom there
    • whither = to where
    • hither = to here
    • thither = to there
    Only "hence" with the meaning "as a result of this" is in common use nowadays.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes of course, we can say "to the place whence" but we don't need to, we just say "whence".

    In more modern English we can say "They returned where they had come from", we don't need to say "They returned to the place they had come from".
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes, "to the place from which" is a better paraphrase in that sentence. Other times it simply means " from where": He told us whence he came.
    Thank you. Are you saying "They returned whence they came" means the same as "They returned to the place from which they came.

    How about "John sent the goods where Mary works"? Does that mean the same as "John sent the goods to the place where Mary works"?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    How about "John sent the goods where Mary works"? Does that mean the same as "John sent the goods to the place where Mary works"?
    I think it does, but it sounds odd and I doubt that a native speaker would say it.

    I'd just shorten "John sent the goods to the place where Mary works" to "John sent the goods to Mary's workplace"

    PS: We're going a little bit off-topic here, by the way. ;)
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you. Are you saying "They returned whence they came" means the same as "They returned to the place from which they came.
    We would probably say "They returned to the place from where they had come" (or, more likely, "They returned to the place they had come from"), using the past perfect to show the sequence of events.

    I am not familiar with the historical use of "whence" (when it was in common use), but today it is only used in fixed expressions such as "They returned whence they came", using the simple past tense of "come".
     
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