[hwens, wens]


from what place?: Whence comest thou?
from what source, origin, or cause?: Whence has he wisdom?


from what place, source, cause, etc.: He told whence he came.

Origin of whence

1250–1300; Middle English whennes, whannes, equivalent to whanne (by syncope from Old English hwanone whence) + -s -s1
Can be confusedhence hither thence thither whence whither yon (see usage note at the current entry)when whence

Usage note

Although sometimes criticized as redundant on the grounds that “from” is implied by the word whence, the idiom from whence is old in the language, well established, and standard. Among its users are the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Dickens: Hilary finally settled in Paris, from whence she bombarded us with letters, postcards, and sketches. From thence, a parallel construction, occurs infrequently.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for whence

Contemporary Examples of whence

Historical Examples of whence

  • Gallus told him and he vanished through the curtains, whence he returned presently, beckoning them to advance.


    H. Rider Haggard

  • And she perceived that he was much abashed, and so asked him a second time, "Tell me whence you come."

  • It was, besides, so easy to get rid of the exiles of Valencay by sending them back to the place from whence they had been brought!

    Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, Complete

    Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne

  • The exact nature of the various missiles and the direction from whence they came were of course unknown to us.

    The Blocking of Zeebrugge

    Alfred F. B. Carpenter

  • She gestured toward the lower caves, whence the sounds of smithy-work and other toil drifted upward.

    Darkness and Dawn

    George Allan England

British Dictionary definitions for whence



from what place, cause, or origin?


(subordinating) from what place, cause, or origin

Word Origin for whence

C13 whannes, adverbial genitive of Old English hwanon; related to Old Frisian hwana, Old High German hwanan


The expression from whence should be avoided, since whence already means from which place: the tradition whence (not from whence) such ideas flowed
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for whence

c.1300, whennes, with adverbial genitive -s, from Old English hwanone, related to hwænne (see when).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper