what - definition and synonyms

adverb, determiner, interjection, predeterminer, pronoun 

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What can be used in the following ways:
as a question pronoun (introducing a direct or indirect question): What do you want?Tell me what happened.
as a relative pronoun (starting a relative clause that is subject, object, or complement of another clause): She showed me what she had bought.
as a determiner (followed by a noun and introducing a question): What subjects are you studying? (followed by a noun and introducing a relative clause): I’ll give you what money I have.
as a predeterminer (before ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’): What a nuisance!
as an adverb: What does it matter?
as an interjection: What! You mean I’ve been wasting my time?
  1. 1
    which thing
    1. a.
      used for asking which thing, action, or idea something is, or which type of thing, action, or idea something is

      What’s your name?

      What time is it?

      What was the weather like?

      I asked her what kind of music she liked.

      People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do when I retire.

      ‘I’m worried, Harry.’ ‘What about?’

    2. b.
      used when someone knows or says which thing, action, or idea something is

      I told him what the problem was.

      She wasn’t quite sure what she was going to say.

      I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to wear to the dinner.

      what to do/say/think etc:

      Poor Kevin! He doesn’t know what to do.

  2. 2
    used for referring to a particular thing, action, or idea

    You haven’t given me what I asked for.

    What you need is a good long holiday.

    What annoys me is the way he boasts about what he’s done.

    George always does his best, and that’s what I like about him.

  3. 3
    used for referring to the whole amount that remains or is available

    Tom eagerly finished up what was left of the champagne and chicken pie.

    What little free time he had was spent with the family.

  4. 4
    spoken used for introducing a remark in which you emphasize how big, good, bad etc someone or something is

    What awful weather we’ve been having!

    What a nice surprise!

    What a nuisance for you, having to make all these changes.

  5. 5
    spoken used for showing that you are surprised or shocked by something that you have just heard or seen

    What! Are they still in bed?

    What! You mean he can’t read or write?

  6. 6
    spoken used for asking someone to repeat what they have just said because you did not hear it clearly

    Turn the radio down, will you?’ ‘What?’

  7. 7
    spoken used when you pause to think because you are guessing a number or amount

    You’ll have to pay rent, which is, what, about £300 a month or something like that.

  8. 8
    spoken used when someone has just called your name or shown that they want to speak to you, and you are asking them to continue

    ‘Hey, Julie!’ ‘What?’ ‘Come here – I’ve got something to show you.’