• 3-minute read
  • 29th October 2018

Word Choice: Hole vs. Whole

For reasons far too boring to go into here, English spelling involves a lot of silent letters. We see this in some words that start with “wh-,” including “whole.” However, English also includes the word “hole,” which is pronounced exactly the same despite the lack of a “w” at the start.

“Whole” and “hole” are completely different in meaning, though, so you won’t want to mix them up in writing. Check out our guide on how to avoid errors when using these terms.

Hole (A Gap or Hollow)

The word “hole” is almost always a noun. It refers to an empty space in something. This can either be an opening that goes through something to the other side or just a hollow in something:

My favorite part of a doughnut is the hole in the middle.

I dug a big hole in the ground.

In the first sentence above, “hole” refers to the opening that goes through the entire doughnut. In the second, it refers to a space dug into the surface of the ground. But both of these are “holes.”

We assume this is a hole full of baked goods.
We assume this is a hole full of baked goods.
(Photo: George Cummings)

More rarely, “hole” is a verb meaning “make a hole in something.” However, this is usually restricted to ships and boats (e.g., The torpedo holed the ship).

Whole (Complete or Unbroken)

With a “w” at the beginning, “whole” is typically an adverb or an adjective. We use it to say that something is complete or unbroken. For example:

I am going away for the whole week.

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The snake swallowed the rat whole.

The first sentence here uses “whole” as an adjective to modify “week” (i.e., the entire week). In the second, “whole” is an adverb modifying “swallowed” (i.e., it tells us that the snake ate the rat in one piece). In both cases, though, it shows we’re discussing the entirety of something.

“Whole” can also be a noun, where it again refers to something in its entirety:

Taken as a whole, the work of John Hurt is impressive.

Two halves make a whole.

In all cases, then, “whole” refers to something being complete or undivided.

Hole or Whole?

“Hole” and “whole” sound the same and share many letters, so they can be easy to confuse. However, they are very different in practice, so keep the following in mind:

  • “Hole” is usually a noun and refers to an empty space or gap in an object.
  • “Whole” is usually an adjective or adverb and refers to being complete.

Since these words are so similar written down, and since spellcheckers won’t flag either term as “incorrect,” you also need to look out for accidental typos. But proofreading can help with that!

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