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Why is it spelled...?

Why are there <w>'s in words like who, whom, whose, whole, and wholly?

Who comes from the Old English word hwa; whom and whose from hwa's inflected forms hwam, and hwæs. The <hw> was pronounced [hw]. In the 13th century scribes changed <hw> to <wh>, probably by analogy with the other consonant digraphs <ch>, <gh>, <sh>, and <th>. In most cases the pronunciation eased from [hw] to [hw] or even [w]. Thus, Old English hwal became today's whale, pronounced [hwal] and [wal]. A similar process occurred with several other words, such as what, wheat, wheel, while, why, etc. But in the case of who and its inflections, the [hw] pronunciation simplified to [h], the [w] being omitted perhaps because the pronouns were often unstressed.

Analogy caused people to change earlier <h> spellings of [h] to <wh>. Thus, Middle English hole became whole, and holly, hoolly became wholly. In a similar way, Middle English hore became whore (AES, 28.4.2, 28.4.3).

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