what

pronoun
\ˈhwät, ˈhwət, ˈwät, ˈwət \

Definition of what 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a(1) used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the identity, nature, or value of an object or matter what is thiswhat is wealth without friendswhat does he earnwhat 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 sense 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 foolwhat is she, that all our swains commend her— William 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

3a : 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

4a : whatever sense 1a say what you will

b obsolete : whoever

what for

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 : harsh treatment especially by blows or by a sharp reprimand gave him what for in violent SpanishNew Yorker

what have you

: whatnot novels, plays, short stories, travelogues, and what have you— Haldeen Braddy

what if

1 : what will or would be the result if

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

what of

1 : what is the situation with respect to

2 : 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— William Shakespeare

what

adverb

Definition of what (Entry 2 of 3)

1 obsolete : why

2 : in what respect : how what does he care

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 increasingwhat with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk— William Shakespeare

what

adjective

Definition of what (Entry 3 of 3)

1a 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 mountainsremember what fun we hadwhat a suggestionwhat a charming girl

2a(1) : whatever sense 1a

(2) : any ornament of what description soever

b : the … that : as much or as many … as rescued what survivors they found

Examples of what in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

Read his full remarks from the Phoenix rally below: TRUMP: What a crowd. Time, "President Trump Ranted For 77 Minutes in Phoenix. Here’s What He Said," 23 Aug. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's still traveling in Europe, says that schools will open September 5, no matter what Rauner does about funding. Kate Shepherd, Chicago Reader, "News / Did You Read __________? A teenager who disappeared in the 1970s identified as a victim of John Wayne Gacy, and other Chicago news," 20 July 2017 Senior Matt Boyle, the biggest newcomer on offense as Jack Sznajder's successor at quarterback, knows what a Cooney brings to the table. Blake Baumgartner, Naperville Sun, "Brothers Ben and Jack continue the Cooney legacy for Benet in football," 18 July 2017 IndyStar: What stands out to you in Matt Balis’ workouts? Laken Litman, Indianapolis Star, "Q&A with Notre Dame AD: 'No reason we can't compete for national championship'," 14 July 2017 The costumes were incredible, and a highlight for the kids was guessing what kinds of insects were performing. Jennifer Jhon, South Florida Parenting, "Jumping, juggling bugs captivate children at 'Ovo'," 14 July 2017 Customers over 65 years old will be asked additional questions to catch any discrepancies between what they were told by contractors and what contractors submit to the lender. Ron Hurtibise, Sun-Sentinel.com, "New PACE financing firm to launch in South Florida," 13 July 2017 In what ways does this distinct setting influence the story? Patricia Shannon, Southern Living, "Our First Official Beach Read of Summer," 11 July 2017 If our medieval predecessors felt it important enough to create and save these texts centuries ago, there’s no telling what discoveries could be revealed under the light of the Manuscript Illuminator. Ken Krebs, Scientific American Blog Network, "Peering beneath the Surface of Ancient Manuscripts," 7 July 2017 Francona has been undergoing tests to determine what has been causing lightheadedness and increasing his heart rate. New York Times, "Lionel Messi and Barcelona Agree on Extension," 5 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'what.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of what

Pronoun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

Adverb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for what

Pronoun

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

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Statistics for what

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Time Traveler for what

The first known use of what was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for what

what

pronoun

English Language Learners Definition of what

 (Entry 1 of 3)

—used to ask for information about someone or something

—used to describe a question

—used to express surprise, excitement, etc.

what

adverb

English Language Learners Definition of what (Entry 2 of 3)

: in what way

what

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of what (Entry 3 of 3)

—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.

what

pronoun
\ˈhwät, ˈhwət, ˈwät, ˈwət\

Kids Definition of what

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : which thing or things What happened?

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

4 used to ask someone to repeat something You did what?

5 : whatever entry 1 sense 1 Take what you need.

what for

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

what if

1 : what would happen if What if they find out?

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

what

adverb

Kids Definition of what (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : in what way : how What does it matter?

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

what

adjective

Kids Definition of what (Entry 3 of 3)

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

2 : how remarkable or surprising What an idea!

3 : whatever entry 2 sense 1 I don't know what else to say.

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More from Merriam-Webster on what

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for what

Spanish Central: Translation of what

Nglish: Translation of what for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of what for Arabic Speakers

Comments on what

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