top of page

What's the difference?



If we focus on the meaning suggested by discussing the differences between these two words in the sense that, do we say, the entire world is waiting for an answer, or I drank the entire bottle of cola.


the whole world is waiting for an answer, or I drank the whole bottle of cola.

Well, the differences are pretty small - so small in most cases that, in the above examples, no-one's going to really worry. But if we had to give some kind of an excuse for the above examples, we're more likely to say 'entire' in a more formal situation, particularly if we use it for emphasis:

You read the entire collection of Enid Blyton's books? That must have taken you a long time.

But whole does have meanings that don't work the same if you use entire instead, in that 'whole' can suggest that there's no damage to the thing being discussed. It suggests that the thing is complete or perfect, or that it can be made complete or perfect. Nothing has been missed or taken away. For example:


Now that I’m back from my holiday, I feel whole again. NOT: I feel entire again

I've got the whole world in my hands. (but entire is possible)

He spent the whole day feeling sorry for himself. (entire is also possible)

Owls often swallow their food whole. (but NOT entire)

Entire may suggest completeness or perfection, and nothing else can be added, for example:

I read the entire Harry Potter series, including The Cursed Child.

The entire population was affected by the flood.

He can play the entire works of Beethoven on his guitar. 

But apart from those exceptions mentioned above with entire, whole is more popular when it comes to spoken language and those sentences where the two words can be synonyms of each other. And as language develops, it may well be that entire may be used only in technical or formal language.


What's the difference?  Home

bottom of page