Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English homepage

Language: Old English
Origin: hwæt

what

pronoun, determiner, predeterminer
     
what S1 W1
1 used to ask for information or for someone's opinion:
What 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?
! When there is a limited number of possible things or people, use which: Which leg (NOT what leg) did he break? | It was one of his sisters. I can't remember which (NOT what).
2 used to introduce a clause about something that is or was not known or not certain:
No one knows exactly what happened.
It is not clear to what extent these views were shared.
what to do/say/expect etc
They're discussing what to do next.
3 the thing which:
Show 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).
4 used at the beginning of a statement to emphasize what you are going to say:
What 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.
5 spoken

what?

a) used 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) used when you have heard someone calling to you and you are asking them what they want:
'Elaine!' 'What?' 'Come on!'
c) used to show that you are surprised or shocked by something that someone has just said:
'I think I've lost my passport.' 'What?'
6 spoken used at the beginning of a sentence to emphasize that you think something or someone is very good, very bad etc:
What a lovely day!
What a horrible thing to do!
What nice people they are!
7 spoken used 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 spoken

what about ...?

a) used to make a suggestion:
What about dinner at my place next week?
what about doing something
What about going to a movie?
b) also what of ...? formal used to introduce a new subject into a conversation, or to mention something or someone else that also needs to be considered:
What about Patrick? What's he doing nowadays?
What about me? Aren't I coming too?
So that's the food - now what about the wine?
And what of her other job? How is that progressing?
9 spoken

what (...) for?

a) used to ask why someone does something:
'She's decided to work part-time.' 'What for?'
What did you do that for?
b) used to ask what purpose or use something has:
What's this gadget for?
10 spoken used to give yourself time to think before guessing a number or amount:
You're looking at, what, about £4000 for a decent second-hand car.
11 spoken

what's his/her/its name

also what d'you call him/her/it used when talking about a person or thing whose name you cannot immediately remember:
The hospital have just got a, what d'you call it, er... a scanner.
Is what's his name still working there?
12 spoken

(and) what's more

used when adding information that emphasizes what you are saying:
Gas is a very efficient fuel. And what's more, it's clean.
13 spoken

what's what

the real facts about a situation that are important to know:
She's been working here long enough to know what's what.
14 spoken

what's it to you?

used to tell someone angrily that something does not concern them:
That's right, I didn't pass. What's it to you, anyway?
'How did he die?' Suddenly Emily was angry. 'What's it to you?'
15 spoken

... or what

a) used at the end of a question to show that you are impatient with someone or something:
Are you afraid of him, or what?
Is that work going to be finished by Friday, or what?
b) used after mentioning one or more possibilities to show that you are not certain about something:
I don't know whether it was an accident or on purpose or what.
c) used after a description of someone or something to emphasize it:
Nearby are the remains of a deserted village. Spooky or what?
Is that madness or what?
16 spoken

so what?

also what of it? used to say that you do not care about something or think it is important:
'Your room looks a real mess, Tracey.' 'So what?'
'But, Paul, she's so much older than you?' 'What of it?'
17 spoken

you what?

a) British English used to ask someone to repeat something they have just said. It is more polite to say pardon:
'I want to tell you something.' 'You what? I can't hear what you're saying.'
b) used to show that you are surprised:
'So I resigned.' 'You what?'
18 spoken

what if...?

a) used to ask what you should do or what the result will be if something happens, especially something unpleasant:
What if this plan of yours fails, what then?
'What if it rains tomorrow?' 'We'll just have to postpone it.'
b) used to make a suggestion:
What if we moved the sofa over here? Would that look better?
19 spoken

...and what have you

used at the end of a list of things to mean other things of a similar kind:
The shelves were crammed with books, documents, and what have you.
20 spoken

what with something

used to introduce a list of reasons that have made something happen or made someone feel in a particular way:
She couldn't get to sleep, what with all the shooting and shouting.
21 spoken

what's with somebody?

American English used to ask why a person or group of people is behaving strangely:
What's with you people?
22 spoken

what's with something?

American English used to ask the reason for something:
What's with all the sad faces?
23 spoken

now what?

used to ask what is going to happen next, what you should do etc

➔ what does it matter?

at matter2 (3)

➔ what does somebody care

at care2 (6)

➔ have what it takes

at take1 (4)

➔ I/I'll tell you what

at tell (13)

➔ guess what

at guess1 (6)

Dictionary pictures of the day
Do you know what each of these is called?
What is the word for picture 1? What is the word for picture 2? What is the word for picture 3? What is the word for picture 4?
Click on any of the pictures above to find out what it is called.

Explore our topic dictionary