Definition of what in English:


Syllabification: what
Pronunciation: /(h)wət, (h)wät


  • 1 [interrogative pronoun] Asking for information specifying something: what is your name? I’m not sure what you mean
    More example sentences
    • You could be run over by the car of bad luck tomorrow, and what will it all have been for?
    • If we did it in a normal car it would have been easier to do but what's the fun in that?
    • If he was a fool, what were those his folly whipped into orgies of vicious mockery?
  • 1.1Asking 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
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    • 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.
    • Of course, you need to build on your luck and that's what we aim to do against Coventry this weekend.
    • She would have wanted us all to be happy and to have fun so that is what we will do.
  • 2.1(Referring to the whole of an amount) whatever: I want to do what I can to make a difference
    More example sentences
    • She should be able to have fun and do what she wants and not have people antagonising her.
    • The coherent arrangement of the pictures allows one to seek out what one wishes to view.
  • 2.2 dialect Who or that: the one what got to my house
  • 3(In exclamations) emphasizing something surprising or remarkable: what some people do for attention!


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  • 1 [interrogative determiner] Asking for information specifying something: what time is it? do you know what excuse he gave me?
    More example sentences
    • There was some conflicting information about what kind of semen was in the canister.
    • She only cycles at walking pace, so what excuse has she for not obeying the law and dismounting?
    • So what excuse does the council have for not allowing food waste in the green bins, it all rots down?
  • 2 [relative determiner] (Referring to the whole of an amount) whatever: he had been robbed of what little money he had
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    • Much of the debate centred on what money and powers the Government would give assemblies.
    • This is just a small amount of what cruelty actually happens, and this is only in Britain as well.
    • Stop ruining what little enjoyment some of us poor souls can manage to eke out of the average tedious day.
  • 3(In exclamations) how great or remarkable: [as determiner]: what luck! [as predeterminer]: what a fool she was
    More example sentences
    • 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.
    • Only a simple plaque at the graveyard entrance hints at what a remarkable man he was.


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  • 1To what extent?: what does it matter?
  • 2Used to indicate an estimate or approximation: see you, what, about four?
  • 3 informal dated Used for emphasis or to invite agreement: pretty poor show, what?


and (or or) what have you

informal And/or anything else similar: for a binder try soup, gravy, cream, or what have you
More example sentences
  • It is not a case of something like drains or dry rot or what have you that he can do anything about.
  • ‘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.’
  • 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.

and what not

informal And other similar things.
More example sentences
  • The advertisements are made through banners, boards 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.
  • The ‘big boys’ of the U.N. are discussing the arms race, the space programme and what not.

give someone what for

see give.

what about ——?

  • 1Used when asking for information or an opinion on something: what about the practical angle?
    More example sentences
    • If a hat on the bed is bad luck, what about a black cat wearing a hat, on a bed?
    • So it was a good thing that someone was surprised as she was also, but what about him?
    • I went to take a walk with Katja, what about you?
  • 2Used to make a suggestion: what about a walk?
    More example sentences
    • ‘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.
More example sentences
  • 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?
More example sentences
  • They thought he'd like to praise me in person, now what ever gave them that idea?
  • I thought to myself: what ever would prompt a person to make such a statement as this?

what for?

informal For what reason?.
More example sentences
  • Widening the probe (what for?) would expand that circle to hundreds and take months.
  • ‘For Fate's sake, what for?’ he questions.
  • I… guess that would be okay, but… ah, what for?

what if ——?

  • 1What would result if ——?: what if nobody shows up?
    More example sentences
    • This might not matter if the war were won easily, but what if the operation went wrong?
    • And what if the Scots are left in some halfway house with a few bob in their pockets and nothing more?
    • We don't like to think about it, but what if you lose your job or the roof of your house caves in?
  • 2What does it matter if ——?: what if our house is a mess? I’m clean
    More example sentences
    • So what if more houses get built on the outskirts of Dublin without proper local infrastructure.
    • I tried you six different times and so what if I called your house at six in the morning?
    • So what if it turns you into a complete basket case - at least it's always exciting, right?

what is more

And as an additional point; moreover.
More example sentences
  • Like the political realm, the world of fundamentalism is marked by savvy use of persuasion; what is more, it always has been.
  • 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, it's a limited edition of 1,000 pieces only, each of which has been signed by Aishwarya.

what next

see next.

what of ——?

What is the news concerning ——?.
More example sentences
  • But what of the worst bits, the bits that make you cringe when you hear them?
  • Even talkback callers to this station have expressed their opinion but what of the teenagers themselves?
  • But what of the strains of working as both a doctor and a poet in West Kerry?

what of it?

Why should that be considered significant?.
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • ‘I changed shirts,’ Gary shrugged and turned back to the computer, ‘what of it?‘
  • We've all witnessed you kissing him, so what of it?

what's-his (or -its) -name

another term for whatshisname.

what say ——?

Used to make a suggestion: what say we take a break?
More example sentences
  • Instead of expensive training programs, what say we just send these buyers down to a local ‘Harry's Hardware’ for a couple of hours?
  • But what say people finally feel enough's enough and curse both houses by putting in community independents or Greens?
  • 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?

what's what

informal What is useful or important: I’ll teach her what’s what
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.

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
More example sentences
  • Here's a category that's heating up, what with all the new developments this year.
  • Still, I wouldn't want a romantic clinch with a new love at my age - what with all that cellulite and flab.
  • 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.


On the distinction between what ever and whatever, see whatever (usage).

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