\ ˈ(h)wät How to pronounce what (audio) , ˈ(h)wət How to pronounce what (audio) \

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 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) 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?— William Shakespeare
(2) archaic : who sense 1 used as an interrogative expressing inquiry about the identity of a person
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?
2a : the thing or things that What you need is a vacation. What angered us was the tone of the article.
b : 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
3a : 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 Spanish …New 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



Definition of what (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : in what respect : how What does he care?
2 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
3 obsolete : why



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 mountains!Remember what fun we had?What a suggestion!What a charming girl!
2a : the … that : as much or as many … as rescued what survivors they found
(2) : any ornament of what description soever

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


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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3


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

History and Etymology for what


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

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Time Traveler for what

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for what

Cite this Entry

“What.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/what. Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for what



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 ask someone to say something again because you have not clearly heard or understood it often used to show surprise about the thing that someone has just said



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

: in what way



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.


\ ˈhwät How to pronounce what (audio) , 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.



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.



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.

More from Merriam-Webster on what

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for what

Nglish: Translation of what for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of what for Arabic Speakers

Comments on what

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