a. Which thing or which particular one of many: What are you having for dinner? What did she say?
b. Which kind, character, or designation: What are these objects?
c. One of how much value or significance: What are possessions to a dying man?
a. That which; the thing that: Listen to what I tell you.
b. Whatever thing that: come what may.
- Informal Something: I'll tell you what.
- Nonstandard Which, who, or that: It's the poor what gets the blame.
- Which one or ones of several or many: What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.
- Whatever: They soon repaired what damage had been done.
- How great; how astonishing: What a fool!
How much; in what respect; how: What does it matter?
That: I don't know but what I'll go.
- Used to express surprise, incredulity, or other strong and sudden excitement.
- Chiefly British Used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement.
Origin of what
Middle English from
Old English hwæt
; see kwo-
in Indo-European roots.
Usage Note: When what is the subject of a clause, it takes a singular verb if the word or phrase that completes the sentence (the complement) is singular, as in I see what seems to be a dead tree. It is plural if a plural noun or noun phrase completes the sentence, as in He sometimes makes what seem to be gestures of reconciliation. • Clauses with what as either subject or object may themselves be the subject of a sentence, and sometimes it is difficult to decide whether the verb of the main clause should be singular or plural. When the what in the what -clause is the object of the verb and the complement of the main clause is singular, the main verb is always singular: What they wanted was a home of their own; when the complement of the main sentence is plural, the verb is most often plural: What American education needs are smaller classes, though one also encounters sentences such as What the candidate gave the audience was the same old empty promises. When what is the subject of a what -clause that is the subject of a main clause, there is greater variation in usage. When the verb of the what -clause and the complement of the main clause are both plural or both singular, the number of the verb of the main clause generally agrees with them. When the verb in the what -clause is singular and the complement in the main clause is plural, one finds both singular and plural verbs being used. Sentences similar to both of the following are found in respected writers: What drives me crazy is her frequent tantrums; What bothers him are the discrepancies in their accounts. When the complement of the main clause consists of two or more nouns, the verb of the main clause is generally singular if the nouns are singular and plural if they are plural: What pleases the voters is his honesty and his willingness to take on difficult issues; On entering the harbor what first meet the eye are luxurious yachts and colorful villas. Occasionally the choice of a singular or plural verb may be used to convey a difference in meaning. In the sentence What excite him most are money and power, the implication is that money and power are separable goals; in What excites him most is money and power, the implication is that money and power are inextricably bound together. See Usage Note at which.
- (interrogative) Which thing, event, circumstance, etc.: used interrogatively in asking for the specification of an identity, quantity, quality, etc.
- (UK, colloquial) An interrogative which asks "Don't you agree?"
- It's rather late, what?
- (relative, nonstandard) That; which.
- (relative) That which; those that; the thing that.
- he knows what he wants; what is tossed upward falls back down
- In some manner or degree; in part; partly; usually followed by with.
- What with singing and joking, the time passed quickly.
- Such; this is; that is.
- What a pity.
- What a beautiful day!
- John Milton
- But what do I stand reckoning upon advantages and gains lost by the misrule and turbulency of the prelates?
- (now rare) Used to introduce each of two coordinate phrases or concepts; both...and.
- An expression of surprise or disbelief.
- What! That's amazing.
- (UK, colloquial, dated) Is that not true?
- It's a nice day, what? (sometimes repeated, e.g.: What-what?)
- Which; which kind of.
- What shirt are you going to wear?
- What time is it?
- What kind of car is that?
- How much; how great (used in an exclamation).
- What talent he has!
- What a talent!
- (obsolete) something; thing; stuff
From Middle English what, from Old English hwÃ¦t (“what"), from Proto-Germanic *hwat (“what"), from Proto-Indo-European *kÊ·Ã³d (“what"), neuter form of *kÊ·Ã³s (“who"). Cognate with Scots what (“what"), North Frisian wat (“what"), Saterland Frisian wat (“what"), West Frisian wat (“what"), Dutch wat (“what"), Low German wat (“what"), German was (“what"), Danish hvad (“what"), Swedish vad (“what"), Icelandic hvaÃ° (“what"), Latin quod (“what, which").