previous next


PRONOUNS, RELATIVE AND INTERROGATIVE. What for "why;" "whatever;" "who;" "any"

What = "whatever."

“What will hap more to-night, safe scape the king,

where the construction may be "Happen what will," a comma being placed after "will," or "Whatever is about to happen." Probably the former is correct and "will" is emphatic, "hap" being optative.

What = "whoever."

“There's my exchange. What in the world he is
That names me traitor, villain-like he lies.

What is often used apparently with no sense of "of what kind or quality" where we should use who, especially in the phrase "what is he?"

Chief Justice. What's he that goes there?
Servant. Falstaff, an't please your lordship.

“What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland?

Ros. What is he that shall buy his flock and pasture?
Cor. That young swain.

Captain. He did see the love of fair Olivia!
Vio. What's she?
Captain. A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count.

; ib. i. 5. 124. So Lear, v. 3. 125; Macbeth, v. 7. 2; Rich. II. v. 5. 69.

But in the Elizabethan and earlier periods, when the distinction between ranks was much more marked than now, it may have seemed natural to ask, as the first question about anyone, "of what condition or rank is he?" In that case the difference is one of thought, not of grammar.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: