This is part of the difference between series.

If you use the word whole in a sentence (such as, “I counted the whole crowd.”), chances are Microsoft Word will suggest that you change it for entire.

There isn’t much difference between whole and entire. In fact, several dictionaries have whole and entire as synonyms of each other — that’s how close they are in definition. What differences there are between the two are subtle.

For example, consider these two quotes by Merriam Webster:

When referring to the idea of not lacking:

Whole suggests a completeness or perfection that can be sought, gained, or regained. Entire implies perfection deriving from integrity, soundness, or completeness of a thing.

  • Now that I’m back from my week-long vacation, I feel whole again.
  • That teen prodigy can play the entire Beethoven corpus.

When referring to the idea of including everything or everyone without exception:

Whole implies that nothing has been omitted, ignored, abated, or taken away. Entire may suggest a state of completeness or perfection to which nothing can be added.

  • I read the entire Harry Potter series.
  • The entire population of Lethbridge was wiped out by the asteroid.

The differences don’t seem all that pronounced, do they? Well, I did tell you that the differences were subtle. While the differences do exist, I think they are too subtle for everyday conversation.

Consider the usage of both whole and entire as search terms (blue and red, respectively) over the last 13 years:

It seems natural usage increasingly favours whole over entire. Even though entire seems to be on the rise, it doesn’t look like it will catch up with whole any time soon. In fact, given how close the two are in meaning and the increase of whole in practical usage, we might see the extinction of entire from our everyday language, being reserved for technical uses (such as, botanical entire, meaning a leaf without an indented edge, or farming entire, meaning uncastrated).

Which words do you confuse? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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