- (used interrogatively as a request for specific information): What is the matter?
- (used interrogatively to inquire about the character, occupation, etc., of a person): What does he do?
- (used interrogatively to inquire as to the origin, identity, etc., of something): What are those birds?
- (used interrogatively to inquire as to the worth, usefulness, force, or importance of something): What is wealth without friends?
- (used interrogatively to request a repetition of words or information not fully understood, usually used in elliptical constructions): You need what?
- (used interrogatively to inquire the reason or purpose of something, usually used in elliptical constructions): What of it?
- how much?: What does it cost?
- (used relatively to indicate that which): I will send what was promised.
- whatever; anything that: Say what you please. Come what may.
- the kind of thing or person that: He said what everyone expected he would. They are just what I was expecting.
- as much as; as many as: We should each give what we can.
- the thing or fact that (used in parenthetic clauses): He went to the meeting and, what was worse, insisted on speaking.
- (used to indicate more to follow, additional possibilities, alternatives, etc.): You know what? Shall we go or what?
- (used as an intensifier in exclamatory phrases, often followed by an indefinite article): What luck! What an idea!
- British. don't you agree?: An unusual chap, what?
- Nonstandard. that; which; who: She's the one what told me.
- the true nature or identity of something, or the sum of its characteristics: a lecture on the whats and hows of crop rotation.
- (used interrogatively before nouns): What news? What clothes shall I pack?
- whatever: Take what supplies you need.
- to what extent or degree? how much?: What does it matter?
- (used to introduce a prepositional phrase beginning with with): What with storms and all, their return was delayed.
- Obsolete. for what reason or purpose? why?
- (used in exclamatory expressions, often followed by a question): What, no salt?
- Older Use. as much as; as far as: He helps me what he can.
- but what, Informal. but that; but who; who or that … not: Who knows but what the sun may still shine.
- Say what? Slang. (used especially among teenagers) What's that you say? Would you repeat that?
- So what? Informal. (an expression of disinterest, disinclination, or contempt.)
- what for,
- why: What are you doing that for? You want that package now? What for?
- Older Use: Informal.a punishment or scolding: If he stays out late again, his parents are going to give him what for!
- what have you, other things of the same kind; so forth: money, jewels, stocks, and what have you.
- what if, what would be the outcome if; suppose that: What if everyone who was invited comes?
- what it takes, something that enables one to achieve success or attain a desired end, as good looks, ability, or money: There's a young woman who has what it takes to get along in the world.
- what's what, Informal. the true situation; all the facts: It's high time you told him what's what.
Origin of what
- contraction of what is or what has: What's the matter? What's been done?
- contraction of what does: What's she do for a living?
- used with a noun in requesting further information about the identity or categorization of somethingwhat job does he do?
- (as pronoun)what is her address?
- (used in indirect questions)does he know what man did this?; tell me what he said
- the (person, thing, persons, or things) thatwe photographed what animals we could see
- (as pronoun)bring me what you've written; come what may
- (intensifier; used in exclamations)what a good book!
- in what respect? to what degree?what do you care?
- not standard which, who, or that, when used as relative pronounsthis is the man what I saw in the park yesterday
- what about what do you think, know, feel, etc, concerning?
- what for
- for what purpose? why?
- informala punishment or reprimand (esp in the phrase give (a person) what for)
- what have you someone, something, or somewhere unknown or unspecifiedcars, motorcycles, or what have you
- what if
- what would happen if?
- what difference would it make if?
- what matter what does it matter?
- what's what informal the true or real state of affairs
- informal don't you think? don't you agree?splendid party, what?
Word Origin for what
Old English hwæt, from Proto-Germanic *khwat (cf. Old Saxon hwat, Old Norse hvat, Danish hvad, Old Frisian hwet, Dutch wat, Old High German hwaz, German was, Gothic hva "what"), from PIE *qwod, neuter singular of *qwos "who" (see who).
Meaning "what did you say?" is recorded from c.1300; as an interrogative expletive at the end of sentences it is first recorded 1785, common early 20c. in affected British speech. Or what as an alternative end to a question is first attested 1766. "To give one what for is to respond to his remonstrant what for? by further assault" [Weekley]. The phrase is attested from 1873. What's-his-name for "unspecified person" is attested from 1690s; variant whatsisface is first recorded 1967. What's up? "what is happening?" first recorded 1881.
In addition to the idioms beginning with what
- what about
- what do you know
- what do you take me for?
- what for
- what gives
- what goes around comes around
- what have you
- what if
- what in the world
- what is more
- what it takes
- what makes one tick
- what of it?
- what the hell
- what with
- come what may
- for all one is (what it's) worth
- get what's coming to one
- it's (what) a zoo
- just what the doctor ordered
- know the score (what's what)
- left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing
- no matter (what)
- on earth, what
- or what?
- practice what you preach
- sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, what's
- so what
- where's (what's) the beef?
- you know something (you know what)