Hole and Whole

Commonly Confused Words

hole and whole
The detective thought that his client's whole story was full of holes. (David Sutherland/Getty Images)

The words hole and whole are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun hole refers to an opening, a hollow place, a defect, or a dingy place.

The adjective whole means entire, complete, or unbroken. As a noun, whole means an entire amount or a thing complete in itself.

Examples

  • The puppy tore a hole in the screen door and escaped.
     
  • "And I'll never forget the grim look on his face
    when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
    through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace."
    (Dr. Seuss, The Lorax. Random House, 1971)
  • "In her letters to her parents she had never complained. She wrote only that she was getting along splendidly and living in her own home, although in reality she lived in a hole in a cellar, earned her living by taking in washing, and collected scraps of wood at the workshop for fuel."
    (Da Chen, The Sword. HarperCollins, 2008)
  • "The apartment was spacious and bright, with a view all the way downtown along the East Side. . . . Zoe could work her whole life and never have an apartment like this."
    (Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too." The New Yorker, 1990)
     
  • "She did not believe in a modern-day economy, in which everyone played a part in a large and complex whole that introduced efficiencies that at least theoretically raised everyone's standard of living."
    (Gish Jen, "Birthmates." Ploughshares, 1995)
  • "[Gabe] Paul leaned back with a mild smile. 'Reggie,' he said, 'don't look at the hole in the doughnut. Look at the doughnut as a whole.'"
    (Roger Kahn, October Men. Harcourt, 2003)


    Idiom Alert

    • Full of Holes
      The expression full of holes refers, metaphorically, to an explanation, argument, or plan that is incomplete or has many flaws.
      "Bras were never burned at the 1968 Miss America protest, but that the image persists shows how full of holes our knowledge is of the Women's Liberation Movement."
      (Jennifer Lee, "Feminism Has a Bra-Burning Myth Problem." Time, June 12, 2014)
       
    • Hole Up
      The phrasal verb hole up means to hide or take shelter somewhere.
      "She had expected that Uncle Carl would move home from the nuthouse and hole up in the attic, the only hints of his presence being occasional spooky footsteps on the floorboards overhead."
      (Paulette Livers, Cementville. Counterpoint, 2014)


    Practice

    (a) Somehow the drapes caught fire and soon the _____ place went up in flames.

    (b) Tim stared into the _____, and from its depths two blazing eyes stared back.

    (c) There were only three bullies in the _____ school, but they could make life miserable for you.

    (d) I was relieved to have the _____ afternoon to myself.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to the Practice Exercises: Hole and Whole

    (a) Somehow the drapes caught fire and soon the whole place went up in flames.

    (b) Tim stared into the hole, and from its depths two blazing eyes stared back.

    (c) There were only three bullies in the whole school, but they could make life miserable for you.

    (d) I was relieved to have the whole afternoon to myself.

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words