from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • pronoun Which thing or which particular one of many.
  • pronoun Which kind, character, or designation.
  • pronoun One of how much value or significance.
  • pronoun That which; the thing that.
  • pronoun Whatever thing that.
  • pronoun Informal Something.
  • pronoun Nonstandard Which, who, or that.
  • adjective Which one or ones of several or many.
  • adjective Whatever.
  • adjective How great; how astonishing.
  • adverb How much; in what respect; how.
  • conjunction That.
  • interjection Used to express surprise, incredulity, or other strong and sudden excitement.
  • interjection Chiefly British Used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement.
  • idiom Informal (or what) Used as an intensive at the end of a question.
  • idiom (what for) A scolding or strong reprimand.
  • idiom (what for) For what reason; why.
  • idiom (what have you) What remains and need not be mentioned.
  • idiom (what if) What would occur if; suppose that.
  • idiom (what if) What does it matter if.
  • idiom (what it takes) The necessary expertise or qualities needed for success.
  • idiom (what's what) The fundamentals and details of a situation or process; the true state or condition.
  • idiom (what with) Taking into consideration; because of.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Why?
  • To what degree? in what respect?
  • How; how greatly; to what an extent or degree; how remarkably: exclamatory and intensive.
  • With omission of the second what (so frequently):
  • So much as; so far as.
  • That
  • In the phrase but what: but that; that … not.
  • Quick; sharp; bold.
  • Used absolutely as an interrogative pronoun.
  • Applied to animals (and sometimes in contempt to persons) with the force of inquiry after the nature or kind: as, what is that running up the tree?
  • Applied to persons: nearly equivalent to who, but having reference to origin or character, rather than to name or identity.
  • Used in various elliptical and incomplete constructions: as, what? equivalent to what did you say? or what is it?
  • Used in exclamation, to express surprise, indignation, etc.
  • Expressing a summons.
  • A general introductory notion, equivalent to ‘well,’ ‘lo,’ ‘now,’ etc., and constituting a mere expletive.
  • Used adjectively and lending an interrogative force to the proposition in which it occurs.
  • Inquiring as to extent or quantity: equivalent to the question how much?
  • Used intensively or emphatically with a force varying from the interrogative to the exclamatory: often followed by the indefinite article: as, what an idea!
  • Elliptical for what say or think you of?
  • A compound relative pronoun, meaning ‘that which,’ or having a value including the simple relative pronoun which with the demonstrative pronoun that preceding: as, “what I have written I have written” (that is, that which I have written I have written). It is no longer used of persons, except in the anomalous phrase but what.
  • What was formerly and in vulgar speech is still used as a simple relative, equivalent to that or which: as, if I had a donkey what wouldn't go.
  • What has also the value of whatever or whoever: as, come what will, I shall be there.
  • Used adjectively, meaning ‘that … which,’ or having compound relative value: as, I know what book you mean (that is, I know that book which you mean); he makes the most of what money he has (that is, he makes the most of that money which he has): applied to persons and things.
  • What sort of; such … as.
  • Any who or which; whatever; whoever.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Old English hwæt; see kwo- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English what, from Old English hwæt ("what"), from Proto-Germanic *hwat (“what”), from Proto-Indo-European *kʷód (“what”), neuter form of *kʷós (“who”). Cognate with Scots what ("what"), North Frisian wat ("what"), Saterland Frisian wat ("what"), West Frisian wat ("what"), Dutch wat ("what"), Low German wat ("what"), German was ("what"), Danish hvad ("what"), Swedish vad ("what"), Icelandic hvað ("what"), Latin quod ("what, which").


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