what for Informal.
[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.
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.
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].
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).
☒ 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.
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Idioms beginning with what:
what goes around comes around
what in the world
what do you know
what do you take me for?
what is more
what it takes
what makes one tick
what's it to you
what's done is done
what's eating you
what's the good of
what's the idea
what's the matter
See also come what may; for all one is (what it's) worth; get what's coming to one; it's (what) a zoo; just what the doctor ordered; know the score (what's what); left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing; no matter (what); on earth, what; or what?; practice what you preach; sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, what's; so what; where's (what's) the beef?; you know something (you know what).
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Common misspelling(s) of what
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
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)
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