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Meaning of WHAT

Pronunciation:  wut

 
Webster's 1913 Dictionary
 
 Definition: 
  1. \What\, pron., a., & adv. [AS. hw[ae]t, neuter of hw[=a]
    who; akin to OS. hwat what, OFries. hwet, D. & LG. wat, G.
    was, OHG. waz, hwaz, Icel. hvat, Sw. & Dan. hvad, Goth. hwa.
    [root]182. See {Who}.]
    1. As an interrogative pronoun, used in asking questions
       regarding either persons or things; as, what is this? what
       did you say? what poem is this? what child is lost?
    
             What see'st thou in the ground?       --Shak.
    
             What is man, that thou art mindful of him? --Ps.
                                                   viii. 4.
    
             What manner of man is this, that even the winds and
             the sea obey him!                     --Matt. viii.
                                                   27.
    
    Note: Originally, what, when, where, which, who, why, etc.,
          were interrogatives only, and it is often difficult to
          determine whether they are used as interrogatives or
          relatives. What in this sense, when it refers to
          things, may be used either substantively or
          adjectively; when it refers to persons, it is used only
          adjectively with a noun expressed, who being the
          pronoun used substantively.
    
    2. As an exclamatory word:
       (a) Used absolutely or independently; -- often with a
           question following. ``What welcome be thou.''
           --Chaucer.
    
                 What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
                                                   --Matt. xxvi.
                                                   40.
       (b) Used adjectively, meaning how remarkable, or how
           great; as, what folly! what eloquence! what courage!
    
                 What a piece of work is man!      --Shak.
    
                 O what a riddle of absurdity!     --Young.
    
    Note: What in this use has a or an between itself and its
          noun if the qualitative or quantitative importance of
          the object is emphasized.
       (c) Sometimes prefixed to adjectives in an adverbial
           sense, as nearly equivalent to how; as, what happy
           boys!
    
                 What partial judges are our love and hate!
                                                   --Dryden.
    
    3. As a relative pronoun:
       (a) Used substantively with the antecedent suppressed,
           equivalent to that which, or those [persons] who, or
           those [things] which; -- called a compound relative.
    
                 With joy beyond what victory bestows. --Cowper.
    
                 I'm thinking Captain Lawton will count the noses
                 of what are left before they see their
                 whaleboats.                       --Cooper.
    
                 What followed was in perfect harmony with this
                 beginning.                        --Macaulay.
    
                 I know well . . . how little you will be
                 disposed to criticise what comes to you from me.
                                                   --J. H.
                                                   Newman.
       (b) Used adjectively, equivalent to the . . . which; the
           sort or kind of . . . which; rarely, the . . . on, or
           at, which.
    
                 See what natures accompany what colors. --Bacon.
    
                 To restrain what power either the devil or any
                 earthly enemy hath to work us woe. --Milton.
    
                 We know what master laid thy keel, What workmen
                 wrought thy ribs of steel.        --Longfellow.
       (c) Used adverbially in a sense corresponding to the
           adjectival use; as, he picked what good fruit he saw.
    
    4. Whatever; whatsoever; what thing soever; -- used
       indefinitely. ``What after so befall.'' --Chaucer.
    
             Whether it were the shortness of his foresight, the
             strength of his will, . . . or what it was. --Bacon.
    
    5. Used adverbially, in part; partly; somewhat; -- with a
       following preposition, especially, with, and commonly with
       repetition.
    
             What for lust [pleasure] and what for lore.
                                                   --Chaucer.
    
             Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what
             with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom
             shrunk.                               --Shak.
    
             The year before he had so used the matter that what
             by force, what by policy, he had taken from the
             Christians above thirty small castles. --Knolles.
    
    Note: In such phrases as I tell you what, what anticipates
          the following statement, being elliptical for what I
          think, what it is, how it is, etc. ``I tell thee what,
          corporal Bardolph, I could tear her.'' --Shak. Here
          what relates to the last clause, ``I could tear her;''
          this is what I tell you. What not is often used at the
          close of an enumeration of several particulars or
          articles, it being an abbreviated clause, the verb of
          which, being either the same as that of the principal
          clause or a general word, as be, say, mention,
          enumerate, etc., is omitted. ``Men hunt, hawk, and what
          not.'' --Becon. ``Some dead puppy, or log, orwhat
          not.'' --C. Kingsley. ``Battles, tournaments, hunts,
          and what not.'' --De Quincey. Hence, the words are
          often used in a general sense with the force of a
          substantive, equivalent to anything you please, a
          miscellany, a variety, etc. From this arises the name
          whatnot, applied to an ['e]tag[`e]re, as being a piece
          of furniture intended for receiving miscellaneous
          articles of use or ornament.
    
    
  2. \What\, n.
    Something; thing; stuff. [Obs.]
    
          And gave him for to feed, Such homely what as serves
          the simple ?lown.                        --Spenser.
    
    
  3. \What\, interrog. adv.
    Why? For what purpose? On what account? [Obs.]
    
          What should I tell the answer of the knight. --Chaucer.
    
          But what do I stand reckoning upon advantages and gains
          lost by the misrule and turbulency of the prelates?
          What do I pick up so thriftily their scatterings and
          diminishings of the meaner subject?      --Milton.
    
    
 

 

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