From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary Englishwhatwhat /wɒt $ wɑːt, wʌt/ ●●●S1W1 pronoun, determiner, predeterminer1used to ask for information or for someone’s opinionWhat are you doing?What subjects did you enjoy most?What colour is the new carpet?What’s your new boss like?What do you think of my painting?What do you mean, you want to spend Christmas alone?what on earth/in the world/in heaven’s name etc (=used for emphasis when you are surprised, angry etc)What on earth’s going on?USAGE: What, whichWhen there are only a small number of possible things or people, you use which, not what: Which leg did he break?Which brother do you mean?✗Don’t say: What leg did he break? | What brother do you mean?
2used to introduce a clause about something that is or was not known or not certainNo one knows exactly what happened.It is not clear to what extent these views were shared.what to do/say/expect etcThey’re discussing what to do next.3the thing whichShow me what you bought.I believe what he told me.I could get you a job here if that’s what you want.What he did was morally wrong.She gave him what money she had (=all the money she had, although she did not have much).GrammarWhat is not a relative pronoun and should not be used to begin a clause after a noun or pronoun. Use that instead. You say: There are so many things that can go wrong.✗Don’t say: There are so many things what can go wrong.4EMPHASIZEused at the beginning of a statement to emphasize what you are going to sayWhat that kid needs is some love and affection.What we’ll do is leave a note for Mum to tell her we won’t be back till late.What matters is the British people and British jobs.SPOKEN PHRASES5 →what?6VERYused at the beginning of a sentence to emphasize that you think something or someone is very good, very bad etcWhat a lovely day!What a horrible thing to do!What nice people they are!7used to ask someone to complete a name when they have only given you the first part of it‘Do you know his name?’ ‘It’s David.’ ‘David what?’8 →what about ...?9 →what (...) for?10PAUSEused to give yourself time to think before guessing a number or amountYou’re looking at, what, about £4,000 for a decent second-hand car.11 →what’s his/her/its name12 →(and) what’s more13 →what’s what14 →what’s it to you?15 →... or what16 →so what?17 →you what?18 →what if ...?19 →... and what have you20 →what with something21 →what’s with sb?22 →what’s with sth?23 →now what?24 →what's not to like/love? → what does it matter?at matter2(3), → what does somebody careat care2(6), → have what it takesat take1(4), → I/I’ll tell you whatat tell(13), → guess whatat guess1(6)
Examples from the Corpus
what• What a mean thing to say!• What are you doing?• What did you say?• I'm not surewhat I can do to help you.• What I need is a nicehotbath.• Whatkind of dog is that?• She gave him what money she had.• What nice weather we're having!• They're discussingwhat to do next.• Let me see what you've got in the box.what to do/say/expect etc• He pinched some out and cleaned it on a crumpledpaperbag, not knowingwhat to say.• Oh? says Blue, having no idea what to expect.• When his oration ended, the rector felt sufficiently relieved to try and figure out what to do.• It is not a simplematter of informing people what to do as you seem to think.• If you would like furtheradvice on what to do, contact your Citizens Advice Bureau.• If you take it, I shall hear, and you know what to expect, don't you?• Building codes have been adjusted, and the public has been educated about what to do when an earthquakestrikes.• The question that is left is what to do with the balance of Susan's equity in the partnership.what?what?a)REPEATused to ask someone to repeat something they have just said because you did not hear it properly‘Could you turn the music down a bit?’ ‘What?’b)CONTINUE/START AGAINused when you have heard someone calling to you and you are asking them what they want‘Elaine!’ ‘What?’ ‘Come on!’c)SURPRISEDused to show that you are surprised or shocked by something that someone has just said‘I think I’ve lost my passport.’ ‘What?’ →what
Examples from the Corpus
what?• "I went to the store and bought some new shoes." "You went to the store and what?"