Hypertext Webster Gateway: "What"

From Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) (web1913)

What \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.

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.''

What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
--Matt. xxvi.
(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

What partial judges are our love and hate!

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.
(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

What for lust [pleasure] and what for lore.

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.

From Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) (web1913)

What \What\, n.
Something; thing; stuff. [Obs.]

And gave him for to feed, Such homely what as serves
the simple ?lown. --Spenser.

From Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) (web1913)

What \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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