Definition of what in English:


Pronunciation /(h)wät//(h)wət/


  • 1[interrogative pronoun] Asking for information specifying something.

    ‘what is your name?’
    ‘I'm not sure what you mean’
    • ‘Er, well excuse me, but what's left if those areas of your game aren't up to scratch?’
    • ‘I have no idea what drove him to begin playing music, what siren song it used to make him devote his life to it.’
    • ‘This information will be used to decide if you owe the money and what instalments you should pay.’
    • ‘In some ways that's no bad thing - what else is dance music for if not to compel you to boogie?’
    • ‘When it didn't bring up any helpful information she asked me what it was going to be used in.’
    • ‘One wonders why they want this information, and what it is used for once they have it.’
    • ‘That again is accepted, but the question remains, what is the amount of the benefit?’
    • ‘How did you end up in the Music City and what are your thoughts on this musical milieu?’
    • ‘Back to the music, what can audiences in the south expect from Tony's current tour?’
    • ‘If we did it in a normal car it would have been easier to do but what's the fun in that?’
    • ‘It seemed to me the whole sticky question of what small children are prepared to eat needed testing.’
    • ‘All I can ask is, what has happened to all that money and what has actually improved?’
    • ‘After an enormous amount of money and resources and judicial time what are we achieving?’
    • ‘So what would your view be of the result, if members of staff are brave enough to use the present procedure?’
    • ‘So what is your general view of the response by the MPS in relation to these cases?’
    • ‘Yes, it raises money for charity but what is really funny about sitting in baked beans?’
    • ‘You could be run over by the car of bad luck tomorrow, and what will it all have been for?’
    • ‘If he was a fool, what were those his folly whipped into orgies of vicious mockery?’
    • ‘It was clear that Japan faced a remarkable opportunity: but what was to be done with it?’
    • ‘So why do we have music festivals, what do they achieve and where can it all go wrong - or right?’
    1. 1.1 Asking for repetition of something not heard or confirmation of something not understood.
      ‘what? I can't hear you’
      ‘you did what?’
  • 2[relative pronoun] The thing or things that (used in specifying something)

    ‘what we need is a commitment’
    • ‘Well, I have to report it wasn't a very good end to what was actually a lovely holiday.’
    • ‘We tend to take a clear-cut view of what being a victim of crime entails, and who the victim is in every case.’
    • ‘I just spoke to a Staff Nurse who was lovely and knew exactly what she was talking about.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, it is a lovely piece, and what I would have voted for if I had got round to it.’
    • ‘These guys are taking all the fun out of what was once the most gloriously unpredictable of games.’
    • ‘Naturally we took the one which gave us the best view of what was going on.’
    • ‘Plants are dormant and deciduous ones will have lost their leaves so there is a clear view of what needs to be done.’
    • ‘Bigger and better seems the only way to view what's destined to become another best seller.’
    • ‘Of course, you need to build on your luck and that's what we aim to do against Coventry this weekend.’
    • ‘Part of what makes football fun is that we all have different ways of looking at things.’
    • ‘Neither of these would be what we call fun but then, you know, it's not a fun situation.’
    • ‘No one expects us to win, so we just have to go out and give it our all, have a go at them and with a bit of luck who knows what we might achieve.’
    • ‘She would have wanted us all to be happy and to have fun so that is what we will do.’
    • ‘And it was a fitting way to celebrate the start of what would become a remarkable reign.’
    • ‘Speakers will give their views on what the trust is doing well and where there is room for improvement.’
    • ‘In order to understand people, we need to solicit their views or accounts of what they are doing.’
    • ‘She sees everything and communicates to the staff her clear views on what should be happening.’
    • ‘Adam says that the only thing remarkable about what he did was the speed at which he moved.’
    • ‘Some people make fun of you but what's beautiful is that most people are interested.’
    • ‘They may not thank you for offering them a fun companion when what they really need is a mother.’
    1. 2.1 (referring to the whole of an amount) whatever.
      ‘I want to do what I can to make a difference’
      • ‘The coherent arrangement of the pictures allows one to seek out what one wishes to view.’
      • ‘She should be able to have fun and do what she wants and not have people antagonising her.’
    2. 2.2dialect Who or that.
      ‘the one what got to my house’
  • 3(in exclamations) emphasizing something surprising or remarkable.

    ‘what some people do for attention!’


  • 1[interrogative determiner] Asking for information specifying something.

    ‘what time is it?’
    ‘do you know what excuse he gave me?’
    • ‘We once had an enormous row because we couldn't decide what music to listen to in the car.’
    • ‘Send us an email explaining what you feel you can bring to the station and what genre of music you play.’
    • ‘How would you class your own music, and what kind of styles do you particularly like?’
    • ‘By the time you had figured out what song you were hearing, they had switched to a new one.’
    • ‘Pat wanted to know what sort of amount we needed and how we'd use any money raised.’
    • ‘Disputes often arise about what information was in fact provided in a given case.’
    • ‘So when it comes to buying music, what place is there for any form of brand loyalty?’
    • ‘The disappointment is that no one is sure what form Railtrack's replacement will take.’
    • ‘So what excuse does the council have for not allowing food waste in the green bins, it all rots down?’
    • ‘How will this affect the existence of money, and what sort of society might emerge as a result?’
    • ‘You decide what kind of information you want to give out, and you start to get to know each other better.’
    • ‘She only cycles at walking pace, so what excuse has she for not obeying the law and dismounting?’
    • ‘You will not have access to the database, it will not be clear who has what information on you.’
    • ‘It would work by asking you a series of questions about what music you like or dislike.’
    • ‘Pardon me, but what possible meaning can the word friend have in that sentence?’
    • ‘Can you explain your thoughts and what information were you receiving from the team at that time?’
    • ‘Now it looks as if the taxpayer will have to foot the whole bill and what sort of result is that?’
    • ‘They need to know precisely what information was placed before Treasury officials.’
    • ‘That means a long car journey and, more to the point, an argument about what music to play.’
  • 2[relative determiner] (referring to the whole of an amount) whatever.

    ‘he had been robbed of what little money he had’
    • ‘This is just a small amount of what cruelty actually happens, and this is only in Britain as well.’
    • ‘Could it be that the record companies no longer have control over what music is being bought?’
    • ‘Much of the debate centred on what money and powers the Government would give assemblies.’
    • ‘Under the Data Protection Act, you have the right to see what information is held about you.’
    • ‘It is truly amazing what information is available if one is prepared to search for it.’
    • ‘He flies down to Cataluna and tries to locate her based on what little information he has about her.’
    • ‘Stop ruining what little enjoyment some of us poor souls can manage to eke out of the average tedious day.’
    • ‘Read what information is available and pick up some tips on how to lessen the risk to yourself.’
    • ‘This is a great film that may leave you reflecting on what luck you've been dealt in life.’
  • 3(in exclamations) how great or remarkable.

    [as determiner] ‘what luck!’
    [as predeterminer] ‘what a fool she was’
    • ‘He was surprised to discover what a talent he had for producing sexually explicit pap.’
    • ‘Such a rapid, dramatic, take always takes you by surprise but what a way to be surprised!’
    • ‘Ask them about it and you might understand what a significant impact it had on the era.’
    • ‘I don't know if they will always be together but what an amazing understanding they have.’
    • ‘Only a simple plaque at the graveyard entrance hints at what a remarkable man he was.’
    • ‘So it comes as no surprise to discover what a great exercise it is for the lower body.’
    • ‘He remarks what a lovely and expensive machine it is and that he will take care of it for you.’
    • ‘I should have known better than to comment on what a lovely morning it was this morning.’
    • ‘They understood what a big deal it was to him, and completely want to make him feel connected and loved.’
    • ‘He will have begun his work by then and what an amount of work he has to do.’


  • 1To what extent?

    ‘what does it matter?’
  • 2Used to indicate an estimate or approximation.

    ‘see you, what, about four?’
  • 3informal, dated Used for emphasis or to invite agreement.

    ‘pretty poor show, what?’


On the distinction between what ever and whatever, see whatever


  • and (or or) what have you

    • informal And/or anything else similar.

      ‘for a binder try soup, gravy, cream, or what have you’
      • ‘‘There's a lot of other people in life that don't get second chances,’ he said, ‘or have diseases or have a freak accident or what have you.’’
      • ‘With sword-wielding heroes back in fashion, the door is now open for the upcoming Troy, two parallel films about Alexander the Great, the allegedly final Star Wars episode, and what have you.’
      • ‘They turn ‘waste’ into creative art - greeting cards, collage, brush paintings, decorative waste bins out of discarded biscuit tins and what have you.’
      • ‘I am asking is there no surveillance for example, on turkey and so on, or chicken or what have you?’
      • ‘We have some fifty years of trying to address this problem through public avenues such as schools, government ads, policing programs, driver education, the penal system, and what have you.’
      • ‘It is not a case of something like drains or dry rot or what have you that he can do anything about.’
      • ‘You can't be cutting educational programs, social welfare programs and what have you, and pushing tax cuts - which I think are very important for the economy - at the same time.’
      • ‘Some people have recently faulted others for commenting on only a small part of a piece - whether a blog post, a newspaper article, a book, or what have you.’
      • ‘I mean, there are an awful lot of journalists who themselves were personally touched by it, either by seeing it or knowing a friend or what have you who were affected or killed or lost.’
      • ‘I don't really care for movies, nor do I follow TV shows, be they soap operas, sitcoms, variety shows, reality shows or what have you.’
      and so on, and so forth, and so on and so forth, and the rest, and the like, or the like, and suchlike, or suchlike, and more of the same, or more of the same, and similar things, or similar things, et cetera et cetera, and others, among others, et al., etc.
      View synonyms
  • and what not

    • informal And other similar things.

      • ‘He seems almost nervous, always looking down, fiddling with his tie and what not.’
      • ‘Then negotiating with the studio and what not, I kind of fell out of the project.’
      • ‘It's in this cave and the bodies are pretty well decomposed though some still have hair and what not.’
      • ‘The advertisements are made through banners, boards and what not.’
      • ‘The ‘big boys’ of the U.N. are discussing the arms race, the space programme and what not.’
      • ‘Let us try to bluff him by painting our houses, buildings, apartments, hoardings and what not, in green.’
      • ‘As a result, one finds even public places like the beach littered with plastic cups, bottles and leftover food and what not.’
      • ‘I've - coming from war and what not and trying to get back myself back on my own feet, it's been hard.’
      • ‘Yes, I saw the camera and I was kind of dancing around in front of it and what not and wanted the camera to focus on me.’
      • ‘It's a kind of status symbol to show you are modern, progressive, technically savvy and what not.’
      and so on, and so forth, and so on and so forth, and the rest, and the like, or the like, and suchlike, or suchlike, and more of the same, or more of the same, and similar things, or similar things, et cetera et cetera, and others, among others, et al., etc.
      View synonyms
  • give someone what for

    • informal, dated Punish or scold someone severely.

      • ‘In Joe's office Elizabeth was giving him what for.’
      • ‘It's all I can do to keep myself from going over there and giving them what for.’
      • ‘Once, the cat got too close and she gave him what for.’
      • ‘One of this days I am gonna turn around and give you what for.’
      • ‘The once quiet little girl who was mercilessly bullied at her last school was giving them what for.’
      • ‘Uri stepped in (it had been a bad afternoon for the poor guy) and gave him what for as well.’
      • ‘We gave them what for, and we can resume our action at any time.’
      • ‘I gave him what for and told him he better not miss the funeral!’
      • ‘Safely out of earshot at the far edge of the crowd, I gave her what for.’
      • ‘You'd best be on your best behaviour or the locals will give you what for.’
      scold, chastise, upbraid, berate, castigate, lambaste, rebuke, reprimand, reproach, reprove, admonish, remonstrate with, lecture, criticize, censure
      View synonyms
    • informal, dated

      see give
  • what about ——?

    • 1Used when asking for information or an opinion on something.

      ‘what about the practical angle?’
      • ‘Those items are sometimes the work of other journalists, so what about their rights ?’
      • ‘So it was a good thing that someone was surprised as she was also, but what about him?’
      • ‘Uh… I'm just bored so I'm walking around the woods, what about you?’
      • ‘I went to take a walk with Katja, what about you?’
      • ‘‘Never mind her,’ muttered Mel, ‘what about us?’’
      • ‘The water came late last night and disappeared three hours later… what about you?’
      • ‘This is meant to be a tourist town, what about them?’
      • ‘Me and a couple friends went on the anti-war marches… what about you?’
      • ‘If a hat on the bed is bad luck, what about a black cat wearing a hat, on a bed?’
      • ‘‘So what about this date tonight ?’’
    • 2Used to make a suggestion.

      ‘what about a walk?’
      • ‘‘Well, sister,’ I said to her, ‘I am very pleased to see that you don't have any problem with walking, but what about my waltz ?’’
  • what-d'you-call-it (or what's-its name)

    • informal

      another term for whatchamacallit
      • ‘They are going to use the thing that she referred to as the ‘what-d'you-call-it’.’
      • ‘To make you understand the full what-d'you-call-it of the situation, I shall have to explain just how matters stood between Mrs. Yeardsley and myself.’
  • what ever

    • Used for emphasis in questions, typically expressing surprise or confusion.

      ‘what ever did I do to deserve him?’
      • ‘I thought to myself: what ever would prompt a person to make such a statement as this?’
      • ‘They thought he'd like to praise me in person, now what ever gave them that idea?’
  • what for?

    • informal For what reason?

      • ‘‘Every country in the world is saying we must get an educated workforce, but what for?’’
      • ‘Widening the probe (what for?) would expand that circle to hundreds and take months.’
      • ‘I… guess that would be okay, but… ah, what for?’
      • ‘What about these children and people, they keep on appearing and I don't know what for?’
      • ‘She looks nervously at the floor and stammers, ‘Ok, but what for?’’
      • ‘It's the elderly; young people despise them these days, and what for?’
      • ‘After a moment or two, I said: ‘Dare I ask what for?’’
      • ‘Of course I did not boot with it (I figured, what for?) and of course I had neglected to write-protect the floppy.’
      • ‘Well, I guess, but that's a mighty long time, may I ask what for?’
      • ‘‘For Fate's sake, what for?’ he questions.’
  • what if ——?

    • 1What would result if ——?

      ‘what if nobody shows up?’
      • ‘But what if you are the user of a new product and want to write a review on it?’
      • ‘But, what if the cyclist was there to inform you about a faulty brake light or indicator?’
      • ‘But what if the doctor does not want to treat someone because he or she thinks that they would be an inadequate parent?’
      • ‘But what if you wanted to sell your house before the endowment policy was fully vested?’
      • ‘Could be dangerous - what if they sneak into your house and nick half your record collection?’
      • ‘We don't like to think about it, but what if you lose your job or the roof of your house caves in?’
      • ‘And what if the Scots are left in some halfway house with a few bob in their pockets and nothing more?’
      • ‘This might not matter if the war were won easily, but what if the operation went wrong?’
      • ‘But what if it didn't happen that way and the Neanderthals were the ones left around?’
      • ‘Besides, what if expecting the worst actually makes it more likely to happen?’
    • 2What does it matter if ——?

      ‘what if our house is a mess? I'm clean’
      • ‘So what if it's an inherited thing, as long as they don't have any real power?’
      • ‘So what if it led to the development of the electric gramophone and later took the form of radio and record player.’
      • ‘So what if their lyrical outbursts are in English, they capture the sound of inner city west Wales with precision and wit.’
      • ‘So what if it turns you into a complete basket case - at least it's always exciting, right?’
      • ‘So what if it was a Western classical concert, kids are after all kids, right?’
      • ‘I tried you six different times and so what if I called your house at six in the morning?’
      • ‘So what if more houses get built on the outskirts of Dublin without proper local infrastructure.’
      • ‘So what if it was the end of the day, the energy at the pub was infectious.’
      • ‘From a purely cricketing perspective, so what if Australia play a weakened Zimbabwe.’
      • ‘So what if Wodehouse died almost three decades ago, his works still sell well.’
  • what is more

    • And as an additional point; moreover.

      • ‘And, what is more, this current of suppression is apparently not as reactive as it may appear.’
      • ‘Like the political realm, the world of fundamentalism is marked by savvy use of persuasion; what is more, it always has been.’
      • ‘The urban environment is ailing and, what is more, there are precious few ways in which to address its problems.’
      • ‘They do, however, represent a captive audience and, what is more, an audience in a highly receptive frame of mind.’
      • ‘And what is more, it's a limited edition of 1,000 pieces only, each of which has been signed by Aishwarya.’
      • ‘And what is more, there is declining yield from successive generations of hybrid cattle.’
      • ‘They are coming in, in ever increasing numbers, and what is more, outspent visitors from every other part of the globe in 1999.’
      • ‘And what is more, many even carry animal motifs and animal-friendly messages.’
      • ‘And what is more, your presence helps preservation and provides work.’
      • ‘And, what is more, she points out to the reader that it is pure chance.’
  • what next

    • An expression of surprise or amazement.

      • ‘Fancy stopping the train to pick up passengers - whatever next?’
      • ‘There's even talk that junior ministers might have to start sharing limousines - whatever next?’
      • ‘After you went through the oh-no phase, what next?’
      • ‘Now we are told that salt could be damaging to health - what next?’
      • ‘First earthquakes now mini-tornadoes, dare I say what next?’
      • ‘Best Actor award for ‘Indra’ and ‘Anji’ set for January release, what next?’
      • ‘The opposition success is good news for the coalition, but what next?’
      • ‘Oh my God, lawyers being paid to lobby, what next?’
      • ‘But, nonetheless, I think everybody at that point was really looking for leadership - what next?’
      • ‘When he said Poppy's tree had been stolen I was relieved the dogs were ok, then I just thought with all we have been through, whatever next?’
  • what of ——?

    • What is the news concerning ——?

      • ‘So, what of the other newsreaders that earn much more than you?’
      • ‘And then what of the London electronic philosopher and Sunday footballer?’
      • ‘And what of the heaths themselves, surely the main pull for both areas?’
      • ‘Even talkback callers to this station have expressed their opinion but what of the teenagers themselves?’
      • ‘But what of the worst bits, the bits that make you cringe when you hear them?’
      • ‘And what of the addiction to the massive cash injection into our local economy that our club culture has engendered?’
      • ‘But what of the young who are part of the cricket crowds, some of whom are presumably born in England?’
      • ‘If Orwell saw the contemporary killings of his age as lacking in drama and ‘story’, then what of ours?’
      • ‘But what of the strains of working as both a doctor and a poet in West Kerry?’
      • ‘Prospects for 2006 for Scotland are reasonably bright, but what of the longer-term picture?’
  • what of it?

    • Why should that be considered significant?

      • ‘Ignoring his protests, I ordered him up to the cream guest room (and if Saro usually had the blue, what of it?) and to sleep until lunchtime.’
      • ‘My folks are away on holiday this week (yes, I've been living with my parents for the last year and a half, what of it?) and the thing I've been looking forward to most of all about having the house to myself for a week has been the food.’
      • ‘We've all witnessed you kissing him, so what of it?’
      • ‘‘Yes,’ I nodded with a sigh, ‘I knew your mother; what of it?’’
      • ‘‘I changed shirts,’ Gary shrugged and turned back to the computer, ‘what of it?‘’
  • what's-his (or -its) -name

  • what say ——?

    • Used to make a suggestion.

      ‘what say we take a break?’
      • ‘Formalities aside, what say we show you and your men to the palace?’
      • ‘So, what say me and you go to your place for dinner?’
      • ‘Well, it's been a long time coming and a long time promised but what say we splash a bit of spring water in the two combatants, release the aromas and let the taste off begin?’
      • ‘It's not like we have any other options, so what say we go inside?’
      • ‘Look… I don't really need this right now, so what say we call it truce.’
      • ‘Actually, Ed, what say we try and do the job properly - what with slavery still being a nasty blight on the face of the earth, and all?’
      • ‘Instead of expensive training programs, what say we just send these buyers down to a local ‘Harry's Hardware’ for a couple of hours?’
      • ‘Ok, what say we go get our stuff on, and go out to the pool?’
      • ‘But what say that as a group, a particular race has a particular disposition to a disease.’
      • ‘But what say people finally feel enough's enough and curse both houses by putting in community independents or Greens?’
  • what's what

    • informal What is useful or important.

      ‘I'll teach her what's what’
      • ‘And as for the rumbustious cattle, typically I (dog free) found that a period gazing into their big brown eyes soon brought boredom to both parties and one can roll on without them charging along to see what's what.’
      • ‘Your mom might get what's what if you fill her in.’
      • ‘I am having a meeting with the council and the police before planning permission goes through to see what's what, and then go from there.’
      • ‘For those new to computers, our comprehensive Computer Beginners area will cut through the junk, jargon and technology to tell you what's what in plain English.’
      • ‘The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms wants to know what's what.’
      • ‘I find I'm losing track, though, of who's who and what's what.’
      • ‘Yes, you guessed it - the subject is the upcoming election, and the political scientists think they know what's what.’
      • ‘So I've been doing this trial-and-error experiment to find out what's what.’
      • ‘De Niro's gravelly voice tells Scorsese: ‘I look you in the eye and tell you what's what.’’
      • ‘Call back at four this afternoon and we'll tell you what's what.’
      the facts, the details, the particulars, the picture, how things stand, the lie of the land, how the land lies, the case
      View synonyms
  • what with

    • Because of (used usually to introduce several causes of something)

      ‘what with the drought and the neglect, the garden is in a sad condition’
      • ‘Still, I wouldn't want a romantic clinch with a new love at my age - what with all that cellulite and flab.’
      • ‘Here's a category that's heating up, what with all the new developments this year.’
      • ‘So I've been pretty busy the last couple of days, what with one thing and another.’
      • ‘We can control our death rate, what with medicines, wonder drugs and vaccinations.’
      • ‘She stuck around and chucked in a few ideas of her own - it would have seemed rude not to, what with everyone else having a go.’
      • ‘It gradually took over my life - what with party activity and eight years being a Lambeth councillor.’
      • ‘So what with the houses, the good jobs with plenty of money coming in and the pension safe, you can tell things are looking up.’
      • ‘Well, it only makes sense, what with using all that valuable oxygen from the earth's atmosphere and all!’
      • ‘We cannot check as we used to be able to what with no post offices.’
      • ‘I'm finding it very difficult to sleep at night at the moment, what with all this hot weather we've been having.’


Old English hwæt, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wat and German was, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin quod.