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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.

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 of what

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

First Known Use: before 12th century




Simple Definition of what

  • : in what way

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




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.

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

Seen and Heard

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February 10, 2016

to put in good humor

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