pronoun \ˈhwät, ˈhwət, ˈwät, ˈwət\

—used to ask for information about someone or something

—used to describe a question

—used to express surprise, excitement, etc.

Full Definition of WHAT

a (1) —used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the identity, nature, or value of an object or matter <what is this> <what is wealth without friends> <what does he earn> <what hath God wrought> (2) —often used to ask for repetition of an utterance or part of an utterance not properly heard or understood <you said what>
b (1) archaic :  who 1 —used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the identity of a person
(2) —used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the character, nature, occupation, position, or role of a person <what do you think I am, a fool> <what is she, that all our swains commend her — Shakespeare>
c —used as an exclamation expressing surprise or excitement and frequently introducing a question <what, no breakfast>
d —used in expressions directing attention to a statement that the speaker is about to make <you know what>
e (1) —used at the end of a question to express inquiry about additional possibilities <is it raining, or snowing, or what>
(2) —used with or at the end of a question usually in expectation of agreement <is this exciting, or what>
f chiefly British —used at the end of an utterance as a form of tag question <a clever play, what>
chiefly dialect :  4that 1, which 3, who 3
a :  that which :  the one or ones that <no income but what he gets from his writings> —sometimes used in reference to a clause or phrase that is yet to come or is not yet complete <gave also, what is more valuable, understanding>
b :  the thing or things that <what you need is a vacation> <what angered us was the tone of the article>
a :  whatever 1a <say what you will>
b obsolete :  whoever
what for
:  for what purpose or reason :  why —usually used with the other words of a question between what and for <what did you do that for> except when used alone
:  harsh treatment especially by blows or by a sharp reprimand <gave him what for in violent Spanish — New Yorker>
what have you
:  whatnot <novels, plays, short stories, travelogues, and what have you — Haldeen Braddy>
what if
:  what will or would be the result if
:  what does it matter if <so what if he doesn't like it>
what of
:  what is the situation with respect to
:  what importance can be assigned to
what's more
:  in addition :  furthermore
what's what
:  the true state of things <knows what's what when it comes to fashion>
what though
:  what does it matter if <what though the rose have prickles, yet 'tis plucked — Shakespeare>

Origin of WHAT

Middle English, from Old English hwæt, neuter of hwā who — more at who
First Known Use: before 12th century



: in what way

Full Definition of WHAT

obsolete :  why
:  in what respect :  how <what does he care>
—used to introduce prepositional phrases in parallel construction or a prepositional phrase that expresses cause and usually has more than one object ; used principally before phrases beginning with with <what with unemployment increasing> <what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk — Shakespeare>

First Known Use of WHAT

before 12th century



—used to ask someone to indicate the identity or nature of someone or something

—used to say that someone or something is remarkable for having good or bad qualities

—used to refer to an amount that someone has, uses, etc.

Full Definition of WHAT

a —used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the identity, nature, or value of a person, object, or matter <what minerals do we export>
b :  how remarkable or striking for good or bad qualities —used especially in exclamatory utterances and dependent clauses <what mountains> <remember what fun we had> <what a suggestion> <what a charming girl>
a (1) :  whatever 1a (2) :  any <ornament of what description soever>
b :  the … that :  as much or as many … as <rescued what survivors they found>

First Known Use of WHAT

13th century


Next Word in the Dictionary: whataboutsPrevious Word in the Dictionary: whaseAll Words Near: what
May 25, 2015
callithump Hear it
a noisy boisterous band or parade
Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!
How to use a word that (literally) drives some people nuts.
Test your vocab with our fun, fast game
Ailurophobia, and 9 other unusual fears