(hwŏt, hwŭt, wŏt, wŭt; hwət, wət ) pronunciation
    1. Which thing or which particular one of many: What are you having for dinner? What did she say?
    2. Which kind, character, or designation: What are these objects?
    3. One of how much value or significance: What are possessions to a dying man?
    1. That which; the thing that: Listen to what I tell you.
    2. Whatever thing that: come what may.
  1. Informal. Something: I'll tell you what.
  2. Nonstandard. Which, who, or that: It's the poor what gets the blame.
  1. Which one or ones of several or many: What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.
  2. Whatever: They soon repaired what damage had been done.
  3. How great; how astonishing: What a fool!
How much; in what respect; how: What does it matter?

That: I don't know but what I'll go.

  1. Used to express surprise, incredulity, or other strong and sudden excitement.
  2. Chiefly British. Used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement.

what for Informal.

  1. A scolding or strong reprimand: The teacher gave the tardy student what for.
what have you
  1. What remains and need not be mentioned: a room full of chairs, lamps, radios, and what have you.
what if
  1. What would occur if; suppose that.
  2. What does it matter if.
what it takes
  1. The necessary expertise or qualities needed for success: She has what it takes to be a doctor.
what's what Informal.
  1. The fundamentals and details of a situation or process; the true state or condition.
what with
  1. Taking into consideration; because of: "I've often wondered why some good crime writer . . . hasn't taken up with New Orleans, what with its special raffishness, its peculiar flavor of bonhomie and a slightly suspect charm" (Walker Percy).

[Middle English, from Old English hwæt.]

USAGE NOTE   When what is the subject of a clause, it takes a singular verb if the word or phrase that completes the sentence (the complement) is singular, as in I see what seems to be a dead tree. It is plural if a plural noun or noun phrase completes the sentence, as in He sometimes makes what seem to be gestures of reconciliation. • Clauses with what as either subject or object may themselves be the subject of a sentence, and sometimes it is difficult to decide whether the verb of the main clause should be singular or plural. When the what in the what-clause is the object of the verb and the complement of the main clause is singular, the main verb is always singular: What they wanted was a home of their own; when the complement of the main sentence is plural, the verb is most often plural: What American education needs are smaller classes, though one also encounters sentences such as What the candidate gave the audience was the same old empty promises. When what is the subject of a what-clause that is the subject of a main clause, there is greater variation in usage. When the verb of the what-clause and the complement of the main clause are both plural or both singular, the number of the verb of the main clause generally agrees with them. When the verb in the what-clause is singular and the complement in the main clause is plural, one finds both singular and plural verbs being used. Sentences similar to both of the following are found in respected writers: What drives me crazy is her frequent tantrums; What bothers him are the discrepancies in their accounts. When the complement of the main clause consists of two or more nouns, the verb of the main clause is generally singular if the nouns are singular and plural if they are plural: What pleases the voters is his honesty and his willingness to take on difficult issues; On entering the harbor what first meet the eye are luxurious yachts and colorful villas. Occasionally the choice of a singular or plural verb may be used to convey a difference in meaning. In the sentence What excite him most are money and power, the implication is that money and power are separable goals; in What excites him most is money and power, the implication is that money and power are inextricably bound together. See Usage Notes at which.

As a relative pronoun, what is an especially complex word because it can be either singular or plural and can refer both to words that have gone before and to words that come later in the sentence. In general it stands for a group of two or more words such as that which, those which, the thing (or things) that, anything (or everything) that, etc.:
What you need...is some outside interest—Ruth Rendell, 1974
They contribute what they can, if they are lucky enough to find work—Contemporary Review, 2000.
It must not be used as equivalent to the simple relative pronouns that, which, or who, a use characteristic of highly informal or uneducated speech:
I was the only boy in our school what had asthma—William Golding, 1954.

singular what.
A problem of singular or plural verb agreement arises when what is singular but looks forward to a plural noun or pronoun later in the sentence: What we need is/are clear guidelines. Fowler had a useful rule that if the sentence begins in the singular (i.e. if the initial what is singular), the continuation should also be singular; so the example just given would be expressed in the form What we need is clear guidelines. In current use this rule is often respected, as the following examples show:
What really worries me is the numbers—Nina Bawden, 1987
What bothered him was drivers who switched lanes without signalling—New Yorker, 1989.
In these cases, it is arguable that a noun phrase such as the circumstance of or the fact of should be understood after the main verb; it is not the numbers or the drivers as such that cause the worry in the first example or the bother in the second, but the fact of what they represented or were doing. There are, however, counter examples to be found:
What concerns me are the number of construction projects that are delayed—York Press, 2004 [Old English (up to 1150)C].

plural what.
A different situation arises when what is plural: I have few books, and what there are do not help me. In this sentence, what refers back to books, and so its plural status is clear. When what refers forward, the choice is less obvious: We seem to have abandoned what seem/seems to us to be the most valuable parts of our Constitution. Fowler (whose example this is) had another useful rule in these cases: if what can be resolved into the—s that, with—s standing for a plural noun that comes later in the sentence, the construction should be plural. In the example just given, what...can be resolved into the parts of our Constitution that..., and the continuation should therefore be seem (plural), not seems. If the relative clause introduced by what comes at the head of the sentence, the same rule can be followed if what can be resolved into that which: What [= that which] is required is faith and confidence, and willingness to work. This principle is much less secure, however, since what in the example given (Fowler's again) can as easily be resolved as the things which (plural): What [= the things which] are required are faith and confidence, and willingness to work. Here there is clearly a choice, and naturalness and rhythm will often be decisive; the important point is that the choice between singular and plural should be consistent throughout the sentence, and that a singular what should not be followed by a plural continuation: ☒ What is required are faith and confidence, and willingness to work.

the type what...and which...
When a relative clause introduced by what is followed by further relative clauses joined by a conjunction such as and or but, the what should be repeated when it refers to something other than at its first occurrence:
There is a definite mis-match between what universities are producing and what industry is wanting—Daily Telegraph, 1971.
In this example, the first what refers to one thing and the second what to another, and both are needed. But the temptation to use a further what (or worse, a relative which) should be resisted when this would have the same grammatical status (as subject or object in its clause) and reference, since the first what is adequate to sustain the sense: ☒ Nobody is going to object to what is a popular measure and which will help those most in need should be rewritten as Nobody is going to object to what is a popular measure and will help those most in need (or as Nobody is going to object to what is a popular measure which will help those most in need, where a popular measure becomes the antecedent of which).

what after as and than.
What should not be used after the conjunctions as and than in comparative constructions of the following type:
People who have difficulty in 'hearing' intonation patterns are generally only having difficulty in relating what they hear (which is the same as what everyone else hears) to this 'pseudo-spatial' representation—P. Roach, 1983 (read: the same as everyone else hears)
She sometimes comes out with more than what she went in with—R. Hamilton, 1993 (read: more than she went in with).
But what should be used when it is essential to the structure of the sentence:
It was always easier to say what such a school should not be, rather than what it should be—H. Judge, 1984.

Previous:wharf, wh-, wet verb
Next:whatever, what ever, whence, whither, whenever, when ever

IN BRIEF: Used to ask questions.

pronunciation What do you want for dinner?

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as in: what is this
sign description: Index finger drags down the palm of the opposite hand.

, orig and mainly US

and (I don't know) what all and various other (unknown or unspecified) things. (1702 —) .
A. Lurie That old Mr Higginson.... Got his house full of bird dirt and what-all (1962).

what for a severe reprimand or punishment. (1873 —) .
J. Wilson She deserves to have her bottom smacked...and I shall give young Alice what for too (1972).

what's with...? What's the matter with...?, what has happened to...?, what's the reason for...? (1940 —) .
E. Mcbain 'What's with this kosher bit?' he asked. 'Get me some butter' (1960).

Previous:whassit, wharfie, whanger
Next:what-the-hell, whatchamacallit, whatnot
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categories related to 'what'

Random House Word Menu by Stephen Glazier
For a list of words related to what, see:


Common misspelling(s) of what

  • whta


Dansk (Danish)
pron. - hvilken, hvilket, hvad for en, sikke noget, hvad, hvad der, noget
det. - den, der, hvad der
adv. - hvad, i hvilken grad
adj. - hvilken, hvilket, hvad for en, noget
conj. - hvilken
int. - den som, det som


  • what for    hvad for, af hvad grund?
  • what if    hvad, hvis
  • what of    hvad med (det)
  • what with    på grund af
  • what's what    hvad er hvad

Nederlands (Dutch)
wat, welk, datgene, wat dan ook, hoe veel, wat!

Français (French)
pron. - qu'est-ce qui, qu'est-ce que, que, quoi, ce que, ce qui, combien, quoi ?, combien ?, comment ?, n'est-ce-pas/non ? (question tag)
det. - quel/quelle, quel/quelle (excl), tout ce que, le peu que
adv. - combien, dans quelle mesure, comment, pourquoi, pour quelle raison
adj. - lequel, quel, ce que, ce qui, quel/quelle (excl)
conj. - qui, que (fam)
int. - quoi (excl), comment (excl)


  • and what have you    et je ne sais quoi encore
  • and what not    et je ne sais quoi encore
  • give someone what for    (fig) passer un savon à qn, flanquer une bonne raclée à qn
  • or what have you    et je ne sais quoi encore
  • the whats and hows of    les tenants et les aboutissants de
  • what about    alors ?, et si (suggestion), quoi ? (dans une réponse)
  • what are you on?    sur quoi travaillez-vous ?
  • what for    pourquoi, à propos de quoi ?, à quel sujet ?
  • what have you    je ne sais quoi encore
  • what if    et si
  • what of    lequel...de/des
  • what of it?    et alors ?
  • what with    avec qch en plus, entre ... et ..., avec ... et ...
  • what's what    s'y connaître, connaître son affaire

Deutsch (German)
pron. - was, welche, welcher, welches, wieviel, was für
n. - Was
adj. - welche, welcher, welches
adv. - was, was für
int. - Was!, Wie?
conj. - soweit
det. - das was, welcher


  • and what have you    und was sonst noch [alles]
  • and what not    und Ähnliches (u.Ä.)
  • give someone what for    jmdm. den Kopf waschen, eine Zigarre bekommen (kriegen) (ugs), (BrE) es jmdm. "geben" od. "besorgen"
  • or what have you    oder was sonst noch [alles]
  • the whats and hows of    das Know how, so wird das gemacht, so funktioniert das
  • what about    was ist mit ...?
  • what are you on?    was ist denn mit dir los?
  • what for    (ugs.) warum?, (ugs.) Rüge
  • what have you    was sonst noch [alles]
  • what if    was wäre, wenn, was macht es aus, daß
  • what of    was ist mit
  • what of it?    was ist dabei?, was soll [schon] dabeisein?
  • what with    wegen
  • what's what    was was ist, worum es geht

Ελληνική (Greek)
pron. - τι;, ό, τι, ποιος;, (τόσος) όσος, αυτός που, εκείνος που, όλα όσα, πόσο;
n. - κάτι (τι), ορισμένη ποσότητα
adj. - του (οποίου) είδους
adv. - τι;
int. - τι;, πώς;
conj. - ότι, πως


  • what for    για ποιο λόγο, γερή κατσάδα
  • what if    (κι) αν υποτεθεί, τι γίνεται αν, τι πειράζει κι αν, τι σημασία έχει που
  • what of    τι μαθαίνεις για...;
  • what with    κάτι με..., μια με.. (και μια με..)
  • what's what    το σωστό, η αναπόδραστη πραγματικότητα

Italiano (Italian)
ciò che, che, quale, il che, come, quanto, che!, Che cosa?


  • what for    perchè
  • what if    e se
  • what of    e allora
  • what with    a forza di
  • what's what    le cose importanti

Português (Portuguese)
pron. - quê? (interrog.), que, o (relat.)
adj. - que, qual (interrog.)
adv. - em que
int. - quê!
conj. - tanto


  • what for    bronca, para que?
  • what if    suponha que
  • what of    e então
  • what with    levando em consideração
  • what's what    o básico e os detalhes

Русский (Russian)
какой, сколько, что за, каков, что, кто, который, тот


  • what for    зачем, к чему
  • what if    а что, если
  • what of    ну а дальше что, что из того
  • what with    что произошло с кем-л., чем-л.
  • what's what    что к чему

Español (Spanish)
pron. - lo que, el que, los que
det. - lo que, cuál, cuáles, qué, ¿cómo?, ¿cuánto?
adv. - cuánto, cuál
adj. - lo que, qué, qué tal, qué más, el que, todo lo que
conj. - lo que, cuál, cuáles, qué, ¿cómo?, ¿cuánto?
int. - cuál, qué, qué cosa, cómo


  • and what have you    y cosas por el estilo
  • and what not    y qué sé yo
  • give someone what for    castigar duramente
  • or what have you    o cosas por el estilo
  • the whats and hows of    los pelos y señales de
  • what about    qué se sabe de, qué te parece
  • what are you on?    qué se sabe de?
  • what for    ¿para qué?
  • what have you    cosas por el estilo
  • what if    ¿y si?
  • what of    qué se sabe, qué noticias hay
  • what of it?    y qué?
  • what with    entre, a causa de
  • what's what    que es útil o importante, estar enterado, conocer bien el asunto

Svenska (Swedish)
pron. - vad, vilken, vad som
adj. - vilken
adv. - hur, vad
int. - vilken
conj. - den som, det som

中文(简体)(Chinese (Simplified))
什么, 到什么程度, 在哪一方面, 到...程度, 怎么


  • what for    为何
  • what if    假设分析
  • what of    ...的情况怎样
  • what with    因为, 考虑到, 由于
  • what's what    事情之真相

中文(繁體)(Chinese (Traditional))
pron. - 什麼
det. - 什麼
adv. - 到什麼程度, 在哪一方面
adj. - 什麼
conj. - 到...程度
int. - 怎麼


  • what for    為何
  • what if    假設分析
  • what of    ...的情況怎樣
  • what with    因為, 考慮到, 由於
  • what's what    事情之真相

한국어 (Korean)
pron. - 무엇, 얼마나, 무엇하는 사람
det. - 무엇, 어떤, 얼마나
adv. - 어느 정도, 어떻게, 어떤 점에서
adj. - 무슨, 얼만큼의, 정말이지
conj. - ~ 것(알려지지 않거나 명세 되지 않은 사실을 가리킴)
int. - 뭐라고, 이런, 설마


  • what for    무엇 때문에, 후려갈김, 비난
  • what if    ~라면 어찌 될까, ~하더라도 어때
  • what of    ~은 어찌 됐나
  • what with    ~하거나, ~이다

日本語 (Japanese)
adj. - 何の, 何という, どんな, どの, いくらの, その, 何たる
adv. - どれくらいまで, どのように, どのくらい
int. - ねえ


  • What a life!    なんてこった
  • what for    なぜ, 叱責
  • what if    ならどうだろう
  • what of    それが何か
  • What possessed you?    なぜそんな気になったのか?
  • What the devil    一体全体
  • what with    ~やらで
  • what's what    本当のところ

العربيه (Arabic)
‏(ضمير) ما, الذي (صفه) كم (ظرف) ماذا (نداء) يا له من (حرف عطف) أي‏

עברית (Hebrew)
pron. - ‮מה, כמה, מה ש-, הדבר ש-‬
det. - ‮מה, איזה, איזו, מה ש-, הדבר ש-‬
adv. - ‮באיזו מידה?‬
adj. - ‮איזה, איזו, אילו, אילה‬
conj. - ‮ככל (מיושן)‬
int. - ‮מה! (קריאת השתוממות)‬

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