[ wuht, wot, hwuht, hwot; unstressed wuht, hwuht ]


  1. (used interrogatively as a request for specific information):

    What is the matter?

  2. (used interrogatively to inquire about the character, occupation, etc., of a person):

    What does he do?

  3. (used interrogatively to inquire as to the origin, identity, etc., of something):

    What are those birds?

  4. (used interrogatively to inquire as to the worth, usefulness, force, or importance of something):

    What is wealth without friends?

  5. (used interrogatively to request a repetition of words or information not fully understood, usually used in elliptical constructions):

    You need what?

  6. (used interrogatively to inquire the reason or purpose of something, usually used in elliptical constructions):

    What of it?

  7. how much?:

    What does it cost?

  8. (used relatively to indicate that which):

    I will send what was promised.

  9. whatever; anything that:

    Say what you please.

    Come what may.

  10. the kind of thing or person that:

    He said what everyone expected he would. They are just what I was expecting.

  11. as much as; as many as:

    We should each give what we can.

  12. the thing or fact that (used in parenthetic clauses):

    He went to the meeting and, what was worse, insisted on speaking.

  13. (used to indicate more to follow, additional possibilities, alternatives, etc.):

    You know what? Shall we go or what?

  14. (used as an intensifier in exclamatory phrases, often followed by an indefinite article):

    What luck! What an idea!

  15. British. don't you agree?:

    An unusual chap, what?

  16. Nonstandard. that; which; who:

    She's the one what told me.


  1. the true nature or identity of something, or the sum of its characteristics:

    a lecture on the whats and hows of crop rotation.


  1. (used interrogatively before nouns):

    What news? What clothes shall I pack?

  2. Take what supplies you need.


  1. to what extent or degree? how much?:

    What does it matter?

  2. (used to introduce a prepositional phrase beginning with with ):

    What with storms and all, their return was delayed.

  3. Obsolete. for what reason or purpose? why?


  1. (used in exclamatory expressions, often followed by a question):

    What, no salt?


  1. Older Use. as much as; as far as:

    He helps me what he can.


/ wət; wɒt /


    1. used with a noun in requesting further information about the identity or categorization of something

      what job does he do?

    2. ( as pronoun )

      what is her address?

    3. ( used in indirect questions )

      does he know what man did this?

      tell me what he said

    1. the (person, thing, persons, or things) that

      we photographed what animals we could see

    2. ( as pronoun )

      bring me what you've written

      come what may

  1. (intensifier; used in exclamations)

    what a good book!


  1. in what respect? to what degree?

    what do you care?


  1. not_standard.
    which, who, or that, when used as relative pronouns

    this is the man what I saw in the park yesterday

  2. what about
    what do you think, know, feel, etc, concerning?
  3. what for
    1. for what purpose? why?
    2. a punishment or reprimand (esp in the phrase give ( a person ) what for )
  4. what have you
    someone, something, or somewhere unknown or unspecified

    cars, motorcycles, or what have you

  5. what if
    1. what would happen if?
    2. what difference would it make if?
  6. what matter
    what does it matter?
  7. what's what informal.
    the true or real state of affairs


  1. informal.
    don't you think? don't you agree?

    splendid party, what?

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Usage Note

See doubt.

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The use of are in sentences such as what we need are more doctors is common, although many people think is should be used: what we need is more doctors

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Word History and Origins

Origin of what1

First recorded before 900; Middle English; Old English hwæt; cognate with German was, Dutch wat, Old Norse hvat, Gothic hwa; akin to Latin quod, Greek

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Word History and Origins

Origin of what1

Old English hwæt; related to Old Frisian whet, Old High German hwaz (German was ), Old Norse hvatr

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Idioms and Phrases

  1. Say what? Slang. (used especially among teenagers) What's that you say? Would you repeat that?
  2. So what? Informal. (an expression of disinterest, disinclination, or contempt.)
  3. but what, Informal. but that; but who; who or that … not:

    Who knows but what the sun may still shine.

  4. what for,
    1. why:

      What are you doing that for?

      You want that package now? What for?

    2. Older Use: Informal. a punishment or scolding:

      If he stays out late again, his parents are going to give him what for!

  5. what have you, other things of the same kind; so forth:

    money, jewels, stocks, and what have you.

  6. what if, what would be the outcome if; suppose that:

    What if everyone who was invited comes?

  7. 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.

  8. what's what, Informal. the true situation; all the facts:

    It's high time you told him what's what.

More idioms and phrases containing what

  • 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)

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Example Sentences

So it's really a take-what-you-can-get kind of situation with him.

Played in reverse that becomes ‘Here’s me/Here I am/What we have lost/I am the messenger of love.

If this seems like a small, so-what kind of thing to you, I submit two thoughts.

That is, when things are going well, no one feels compelled to spend money on a what-if project.

TV pool asked Romney at least five times whether he would eliminate FEMA as president/what he would do with FEMA.

Coals!what would he do with coals?Toast his cheese with em, and then come back for more.

Ay, murmured the sick woman, relapsing into her former drowsy state, what about her?what aboutI know!

Consequently, while the direction of the what-not-how-now line is definitely fixed, their actual positions remain unestablished.

"Nothing what-ever," she answered, with an urbanity that defied the suggestion of malice.

But, brother sinner, pray explain How 'tis that you are not in pain?What power hath work'd a wonder for your toes?


Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.