Definition of what in English:

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Pronunciation: /wɒt/


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
More example sentences
  • 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.
3(In exclamations) emphasizing something surprising or remarkable: what some people do for a crust!


1 [interrogative determiner] Asking for information specifying something: what time is it? do you know what excuse he gave?
More example sentences
  • 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?
  • Send us an email explaining what you feel you can bring to the station and what genre of music you play.
2 [relative determiner] (Referring to the whole of an amount) whatever: he had been robbed of what little money he had
More example sentences
  • 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.

interrogative adverb

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: all these home-made sweets and cakes and 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.
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.

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 Used as a substitute for a name that one cannot recall.
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 for?

informal For what reason?
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.
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 ——?
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?
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

informal Used as a substitute for a name that one cannot recall.

what say —— ?

Used to make a suggestion: what say we call a tea 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 typically 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.

what's with ——?

1What is the reason for ——? what’s with all the Christmas decor being out before Halloween?
More example sentences
  • What's with all the carrots?
  • What's with all the questions?
  • What's with every current hip hop song on the radio having a pitched up soul vocal sample on it?
2What is the matter or the problem with ——? what’s with Craig’s face this week?
More example sentences
  • What's with her teeth, anyway?
  • "What's with everyone?" "I'm just not feeling that well lately."
  • What's with my passport, pal?


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

Words that rhyme with what

allot, begot, Bernadotte, blot, bot, capot, clot, cocotte, cot, culotte, dot, forgot, garrotte (US garrote), gavotte, got, grot, hot, jot, knot, lot, Mayotte, motte, not, Ott, outshot, plot, pot, rot, sans-culotte, Scot, Scott, shallot, shot, slot, snot, sot, spot, squat, stot, swat, swot, tot, trot, undershot, Wat, Watt, wot, yacht

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: what

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