Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary
1

what

play
pronoun \ˈhwät, ˈhwət, ˈwät, ˈwət\

Simple Definition of what

  • —used to ask for information about someone or something

  • —used to describe a question

  • —used to express surprise, excitement, etc.

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of what

  1. 1 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>

  2. 2 chiefly dialect :  4that 1, which 3, who 3

  3. 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>

  4. 4 a :  whatever 1a <say what you will> b obsolete :  whoever

what for

  1. 1 :  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

  2. 2 :  harsh treatment especially by blows or by a sharp reprimand <gave him what for in violent Spanish — New Yorker>

what have you

  1. :  whatnot <novels, plays, short stories, travelogues, and what have you — Haldeen Braddy>

what if

  1. 1 :  what will or would be the result if

  2. 2 :  what does it matter if <so what if he doesn't like it>

what of

  1. 1 :  what is the situation with respect to

  2. 2 :  what importance can be assigned to

what's more

  1. :  in addition :  furthermore

what's what

  1. :  the true state of things <knows what's what when it comes to fashion>

what though

  1. :  what does it matter if <what though the rose have prickles, yet 'tis plucked — Shakespeare>

Origin and Etymology of what

Middle English, from Old English hwæt, neuter of hwā who — more at who


First Known Use: before 12th century


2

what

adverb

Simple Definition of what

  • : in what way

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of what

  1. 1 obsolete :  why

  2. 2 :  in what respect :  how <what does he care>

  3. 3 —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>

Before 12th Century

First Known Use of what

before 12th century


3

what

adjective

Simple Definition of what

  • —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.

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of what

  1. 1 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>

  2. 2 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>

13th Century

First Known Use of what

13th century



WHAT Defined for Kids

1

what

play
pronoun \ˈhwät, ˈhwət, ˈwät, ˈwət\

Definition of what for Students

  1. 1 :  which thing or things <What happened?>

  2. 2 :  which sort of thing or person <What is this?> <What are they, doctors?> <… “what could be more important than doing unimportant things?” — Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth>

  3. 3 :  that which <Do what you're told.> <From what he said, I guessed he was new.>

  4. 4 —used to ask someone to repeat something <You did what?>

  5. 5 :  1whatever 1 <Take what you need.>

what for

  1. :  1why <He seemed in a very bad temper … though I could not tell what for. — Anna Sewell, Black Beauty>

what if

  1. 1 :  what would happen if <What if they find out?>

  2. 2 :  what does it matter if <So what if they do? I don't care.>




2

what

play
adverb

Definition of what for Students

  1. 1 :  in what way :  how <What does it matter?>

  2. 2 —used before one or more phrases that tell a cause <What with the school and sports, she's busy.>




3

what

play
adjective

Definition of what for Students

  1. 1 —used to ask about the identity of a person, object, or matter <What books do you read?>

  2. 2 :  how remarkable or surprising <What an idea!>

  3. 3 :  2whatever 1 <I don't know what else to say.>





Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up what? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

mysterious, holy, or spiritual

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

lavender-fields-in-france

Which of these is a synonym of caesura?

megillah torrent rebellion interruption
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ