What's the Problem?: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 15, 2023

The phrase "What's the problem?" is commonly used to inquire about an issue or challenge that someone is facing. It is an invitation to discuss a matter that needs solving or clarification. The phrase is flexible, appearing in both formal and casual settings. It can pertain to concrete issues like broken appliances or more abstract ones like emotional difficulties.

In short:

  • It's a way to ask about the issue at hand.
  • Often used to start a conversation about solving a problem or understanding a situation better.

What Does "What's the Problem?" Mean?

When someone says, "what's the problem?" they're asking for details about a situation that needs addressing or resolving. This is usually a starter for discussing what's wrong and how to fix it. For instance, a friend might ask, "What's the problem?" if you look upset, or a mechanic might use it to ask why you think your car isn't working properly.

Here are some key points:

  • It's a quick way to get to the heart of an issue.
  • The phrase is often used when someone wants to help resolve a problem or provide advice.
  • It sets the stage for open dialogue about whatever is bothering you.
  • The phrase can appear in personal and professional situations, from friendships to customer service interactions.
  • Similar phrases include "What's wrong?" and "What's the issue?

Where Does "What's the Problem?" Come From?

This phrase is so common and straightforward that it doesn’t seem to have a notable origin story or a specific point in history when it was first used. This phrase has likely been in use for as long as the English language has had the words to construct it.

Historical Example

"l thought nothing perplexed the brain of a lawyer," was the response. "What's the problem?"

- The Minister of State: A Novel by John Alexander Steuart, 1898

10 Examples of "What's the Problem?" in Sentences

To give you a clear idea of how and when to use this phrase, let's look at some examples from various situations:

  • When the computer started acting up, the IT specialist asked, "What's the problem?"
  • She looked sad, so her friend asked, "What's the problem?"
  • During the meeting, the team leader said, "What's the problem with our current strategy?"
  • After seeing his son struggle with homework, the father asked, "What's the problem?"
  • The customer looked confused, so the waiter asked, "What's the problem with your order?"
  • When the car wouldn't start, she called a mechanic and asked, "What's the problem?"
  • He couldn't figure out the puzzle, so he asked his friend, "What's the problem here?"
  • The coach asked the team, "What's the problem? Why are we losing?"
  • She couldn't open the jar, so her roommate asked, "What's the problem?"
  • When he returned from the doctor, his wife asked him, "So, what's the problem?"

Examples of "What's the Problem?" in Pop Culture

This phrase shows up quite a bit in movies, TV shows, and other forms of popular media, usually when someone needs to figure out an issue.

Here are some examples:

  • In the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” there is a dialogue between Dave Bowman and HAL. Dave asks, “What’s the problem?” and HAL responds, "I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do."
  • The song “100 Degrees” by Rich Brian contains the lyrics: "It’s a hundred degrees / Why you feelin’ down? What’s the problem?"
  • Styles P has a song titled “What’s The Problem,” where he repeatedly asks, "What the f*ck is the problem?"
  • An article titled “5 Common Problems Faced By Students In eLearning And How To Overcome Them” discusses various issues faced by students in eLearning, asking “What’s the problem?” in relation to each issue.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "What's the Problem?"

Here are some other phrases you can use that mean pretty much the same thing:

  • What's wrong?
  • What's the issue?
  • What's bothering you?
  • What's up?
  • Is something wrong?
  • Do you have a problem?
  • What's going on?
  • Is there an issue?
  • What's bugging you?
  • What seems to be the trouble?
  • Anything I should know about?
  • Why the long face?

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "What's the Problem?"

  • What does "what's the problem?" mean?

"What's the problem?" is a question asking for the root cause or issue that someone is experiencing. It's used to pinpoint what's wrong so that it can be addressed.

  • How can I use "what's the problem?" in a sentence?

You can use it when you see someone struggling or upset, like: "You seem stressed, what's the problem?" or when something isn't working: "The computer keeps crashing, what's the problem?"

  • Is this phrase used more in personal or professional contexts?

"What's the problem?" is pretty flexible. You can use it at work to figure out issues in a project or at home to find out why a family member looks sad.

  • Is it always about a bad situation?

No, it's not always negative. For example, if someone looks puzzled while reading a book, asking "What's the problem?" could just mean you're curious about what's causing their confusion.

  • Can it be used to address emotional issues?

Yes, you can use it to dig into someone's feelings or worries. For example: "You seem a little off today, what's the problem?"

  • How does it compare to "what's wrong?"

"What's the problem?" is pretty close to "what's wrong?" but it's often more specific, looking for the root cause of an issue, whereas "what's wrong?" is generally broader.

  • What's its role in healthcare settings?

In healthcare, professionals like doctors or nurses might use "what's the problem?" to quickly find out why a patient has come in for a visit.

  • Is it a polite way to ask about issues?

It can be, but context is key. In a professional setting, it might be more appropriate to ask "Is there an issue?" to keep things formal.

  • Can it be rhetorical?

Yes, sometimes people use "what's the problem?" rhetorically to challenge someone or show disbelief in the seriousness of an issue.

  • Is it used in problem-solving methods?

Yes, in things like troubleshooting guides or flow charts, "what's the problem?" is often the first question to kick off the problem-solving process.

Final Thoughts About "What's the Problem?"

The phrase "what's the problem?" is a useful way to ask for the root cause of an issue or situation. It can be applied in many different settings, from personal to professional.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It's a go-to phrase for identifying issues or concerns.
  • It's versatile and can be used in both casual and formal situations.
  • The phrase can target both tangible and emotional issues.
  • Context and tone matter when using this phrase.

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