What: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Last Updated on
September 7, 2023

1. (interrogative pronoun) Used to ask about the definition or identity of something or someone.
2. (relative pronoun) Referring back to a thing or situation previously mentioned.
3. (exclamation) Used to express surprise, interest, or annoyance.

The term "what" is versatile and commonly used in the English language. It serves various functions, including posing questions, referring to mentioned things, and expressing emotions such as surprise. This article explores "what" in detail, diving deep into its meanings, usage, pronunciation, and more. Let's learn more about "what" by exploring the various sections below.

"What" Definition: What Does "What" Mean?

"What" is a term that is deeply ingrained in the English language. It can represent different things based on its context, ranging from asking questions to emphasizing emotions. Let's break down its meanings and significance in various contexts.

  • Interrogative Pronoun: "What" is often used to ask about the definition or identity of an object, person, or concept.
  • Relative Pronoun: In this case, "what" refers back to a previously mentioned thing or situation.
  • Exclamation: Sometimes, "what" is used to express emotions such as surprise, annoyance, or interest.

Parts of Speech

The word "what" serves a multifaceted role in English grammar, adopting different parts of speech based on its usage. Let’s dive deeper into its grammatical classifications and some less common uses.

  • Noun: Although rare, "what" can be used as a noun, often in informal contexts.
  • Adjective: In some dialects and in informal speech, "what" can be used as an adjective to give emphasis, such as in "What big teeth you have!"

How to Pronounce "What"?

Pronouncing "what" correctly is crucial as it is a frequently used word. The pronunciation can vary slightly based on regional accents.

wɒt (wŏt)

Synonyms of "What": Other Ways to Say "What"

The term "what" has several synonyms that can be used based on the context. The following are some of the synonyms often used in place of "what."

  • Which
  • How

Antonyms of "What": Other Ways to Say "What"

Finding exact antonyms for "what" can be challenging as it is primarily used as an interrogative pronoun. However, we have listed a couple of terms that contrast with their various meanings.

  • Specific
  • Defined

Examples of "What" in a Sentence

Understanding how to use "what" in sentences is essential to mastering English. Here are ten sentences that use "what" in various contexts, helping to illustrate its use more clearly.

  1. I wonder what he is doing right now.
  2. Is that what you meant?
  3. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.
  4. Do you know what time it is?
  5. He asked her what her name was.
  6. They didn't know what to do.
  7. She explained what happened.
  8. They asked us what we wanted to eat.
  9. What a beautiful day it is!
  10. What? I can't believe it!

Frequency of Use

The word "what" is exceedingly common in both spoken and written English. It's used frequently because it's essential for asking questions and forming relative clauses.

Variants of "What"

The term "what" can appear slightly different based on the context or the sentence structure. Here, we will explore some of the common variants of "what."

  1. What's: A contraction of "what" and "is" or "has." For example, "What's your name?"
  2. What're: This is less common and is a contraction of "what" and "are." For example, "What're you doing?"

Related Terms to "What"

Understanding "what" also involves knowing the words and phrases that are commonly associated with it. Let’s look at some terms related to "what".

  1. Whatever
  2. Whatsoever
  3. Whatnot

Etymology: History and Origins of "What"

Diving into the origins of "what" takes us back to its roots in Old English. The history and evolution of this term are rich and closely tied to many other languages.

  • Old English: Derived from the Old English term "hwæt," which had a similar meaning.
  • Germanic origins: It shares roots with the German word "was" and the Dutch word "wat," both meaning "what".

Derivatives and Compounds of "What"

The term "what" serves as a root for several other words and phrases in the English language. Below, we will explore some of its derivatives and compounds.

  1. Whatsoever: An emphatic form of "what", used to refer to a thing or things, no matter what.
  2. Whatnot: A term used to refer to additional items or things that are not specified.

Common Misspellings of "What"

While "what" is generally spelled correctly due to its simple structure, there are some common misspellings that occur, particularly in informal communications.

  1. Wut: Often used in informal digital communications.
  2. Wat: Another informal variant used in digital communications.

10 Idioms Similar to "What"

There are numerous idioms in English that contain the word "what." Let's look at 10 idioms that are used frequently in English conversations and writings.

  1. What's the big idea?
  2. What's up?
  3. What goes around comes around.
  4. What the heck?
  5. What a piece of work.
  6. What in the world?
  7. What's the catch?
  8. What gives?
  9. What's cooking?
  10. What's the word?

10 Common Questions About "What"

Understanding "what" can bring up several questions. Here, we have compiled a list of 10 common questions that people often have about this term, along with their answers.

1. What are the different meanings of "what"?

"What" can function as an interrogative pronoun, a relative pronoun, and an exclamation to express surprise, annoyance, or interest.

2. Can "what" be used as a noun?

Yes, although it is rare and generally seen in informal contexts.

3. How do you pronounce "what"?

The term "what" is pronounced as wɒt (wŏt).

4. Are there synonyms for "what"?

Yes, some synonyms include "which" and "how," depending on the context.

5. Can "what" have antonyms?

Identifying exact antonyms is challenging due to their primary use as interrogative pronouns. However, "specific" and "defined" can be seen as contrasting terms.

6. What are some variants of "what"?

"What's" and "What're" are common variants representing contractions with "is/has" and "are," respectively.

7. Are there any derivatives of "what"?

Yes, some derivatives include "whatsoever" and "whatnot."

8. What are common misspellings of "what"?

Common misspellings, generally seen in informal digital communications, include "wut" and "wat."

9. What is the etymology of "what"?

"What" has its origins in Old English as "hwæt" and shares roots with German and Dutch words meaning "what."

10. Are there idioms containing "what"?

Yes, there are many idioms containing "what," including "What's the big idea?" and "What goes around comes around."


"What" is a fundamental term in English, serving multiple functions, including posing questions and referring back to previously mentioned entities. Embracing its versatile usage can enrich one's language skills and understanding. It is encouraged to use "what" in various contexts to fully grasp its diverse functions and meanings. Do explore and make the most of this versatile word in your communications.

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