9 Facts On What As A Pronoun (When, Uses & Examples)


The word “what” is one of the most frequent and common question words that we use. This article will give us a detailed account on the word “what” as a pronoun.

The word “what” performs the function of a pronoun when it substitutes, replaces or relates back to a naming word. Any word that is employed to substitute, replace, refer or relate to a naming word (noun) is known as pronoun.

This article will deal with the usage of the word “what” as different types of pronouns such as interrogative pronoun and relative pronoun.

When is “what” a pronoun?

 We are already clear of the fact that the word “what” can function as a pronoun. Here we shall find out when exactly (at what situations) “what” acts like a pronoun.

The table below consists of the situations when “what” functions as a pronoun.

Situations When “What” Functions As A PronounExamples
1. To ask questions in order to know about people’ name, animals, things or even abstract ideas or concepts (nouns)What did you find under the table?
 
2. To refer or relate back to a naming word (noun – person, place, thing or an animal) that is already mentioned priorThis is the bike what I saw in front of the house.
When is “what” a pronoun

When is “what” an interrogative pronoun?

An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun that helps us to ask various questions. Here, we will find out when “what” is an interrogative pronoun.

The word “what” functions as an interrogative pronoun when it is used to question. The word “what” helps to question about person’s name, animals, things or abstract ideas (nouns) that are being denoted. “What” is used to question about objects with limited number.

Example: What do you want for dinner?

In this sentence, the word “what” is an interrogative pronoun. The interrogative pronoun “what” here is used to question and to find out the food (noun – a thing) that “you” want for dinner.

Examples of “what” as an interrogative pronoun

With the various examples, we shall examine more about the usage of the word “what” as an interrogative pronoun.

The table lists down examples in which the word “what” is functioning as an interrogative pronoun.

ExamplesExplanations
1. What is the title of your thesis that you submitted yesterday?In this sentence, the word “what” is utilized as an interrogative pronoun.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is used for questioning purpose in order to find out the name / title (noun) of the thesis that was submitted yesterday.
2. What is your favorite movie?In the given sentence, the word “what” is functioning as an interrogative pronoun.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is used for the purpose of interrogation in order to know the name (noun) of “your” favorite movie. 
3. What is the plan for this weekend?The word “what” is taking up the role of an interrogative pronoun in the given sentence.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is utilized for interrogating purposes in order to get to know about the plan (noun – an idea) that is planned for this weekend.
4. What has she prepared for lunch today?In this sentence, the word “what” is utilized as an interrogative pronoun.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is used for questioning purpose in order to find out the food (noun – a thing, name of a dish) that she has prepared for lunch today.  
5. What do you have in your hand?In this sentence, the word “what” is functioning as an interrogative pronoun.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is used for asking question or interrogating. It is utilized in order to get to know the name of the object (noun – a thing) that “you” has in his/ her hand.
6. What did you drink at the party last night?In this sentence, the word “what” is functioning as an interrogative pronoun.

Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is utilized for asking question or interrogating. It is used in order to find out the name of the drink (noun – name of the thing) that “you” drank at the party last night.
7. What is Rishab’s pet animal which he bought last weekend?The word “what” is taking up the role of an interrogative pronoun in this given sentence.
Here, the interrogative pronoun “what” is utilized for  interrogation purposes in order to get to know what pet animal (noun – an animal) Rishab has.
Examples of “what” as an interrogative pronoun

When is “what” a relative pronoun?

Now that we already know “what” can function as an interrogative pronoun. Here we will examine when (at what places or situations) “what” takes up the role of a relative pronoun.

“What” is a relative pronoun when it starts a relative clause (subordinate clause). A relative pronoun is a type of pronoun which relates to a naming word (antecedent) mentioned in the sentence thereby connecting the clauses. But however, relative pronoun “what” mostly comes without an antecedent.

Example: I don’t remember what he gifted for my birthday.

  • Main Clause: I don’t remember
  • Relative Clause: what he gifted for my birthday
  • Relative Pronoun: what

In the above sentence, the relative pronoun “what” is connecting the relative clause with the principal clause. It also denotes or refers to a thing or an object (what gift – noun) that he gifted for my birthday.

Examples of “what” as a relative pronoun            

For a better understanding, we will now go through a few examples where the word “what” is used a relative pronoun.

The table comprises of sentences in which the word “what” is functioning as a relative pronoun.

ExamplesClausesUsage of the Relative Pronoun “What”
1. We are unsure of what decision the commission will take.Main Clause: we are unsure of
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what decision the commission will take
In this sentence, the word “what” is employed as a relative pronoun.

The relative pronoun “what” refers to the decision (noun – an abstract idea), that the commission will take.

The relative pronoun “what” thus aids to connect the relative clause with the main clause.
2. The children were able to find what they have been searching for.Main Clause: the children were able to find
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what they have been searching for
In this sentence, the word “what” is utilized as a relative pronoun.

Here, the relative pronoun “what” refers to the object or thing (noun – a thing), that the children found out after searching.

The relative pronoun “what” thus aids to associate the relative clause with the principal clause.
3. What the class leader says must be followed by the other students.Main Clause: must be followed by the other students
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what the class leader says
In the given sentence, the word “what” is functioning as a relative pronoun.

The relative pronoun “what” refers to all the things (noun) that the class leader will say to the other students.

The relative pronoun “what” here links the principal clause and the relative clause together into a single sentence.
4. We cannot comprehend what you are talking about.Main Clause: we cannot comprehend
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what you are talking about
In this sentence, “what” is utilized as a relative pronoun.

Here, the relative pronoun “what” denotes or indicates the idea or the words (noun) that is spoken by “you” and cannot be comprehended by “us”.

The relative pronoun “what” thus helps to link the relative clause and the main clause.
5. What you speak in anger cannot be taken back.Main Clause: cannot be taken back
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what you speak in anger
In this sentence, the word “what” is taking up the role of a relative pronoun.

Here, the relative pronoun “what” denotes or indicates the words (noun) that is spoken by “you” in anger.

Thus, the relative pronoun “what” helps to link the relative clause and the principal clause into one sentence.
6. My father will definitely do what he can.Main Clause: my father will definitely do
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what he can
In the given sentence, the word “what” functions as a relative pronoun.

The relative pronoun “what” relates to all the things (noun) that my father can do and will do.

The relative pronoun “what” here joins the main clause and the relative clause together into one single sentence.
7. This is the car what I saw at the end of the deserted street.Main Clause: this is the car
Relative Clause (Dependent Clause) : what I saw at the end of the deserted street
In the given sentence, the word “what” is taking up the role of a relative pronoun.

Here, the relative pronoun “what” relates to the car (noun – thing) that “I” saw at the end of the deserted street. Here, “what” is relating back to the car, which is its antecedent.

Thus, the relative pronoun “what” here joins the main clause and the relative clause into a single sentence.
Examples of “what” as a relative pronoun

Is “what” an object pronoun?

Based on their position in a sentence, pronouns can be classified as subject pronouns and object pronouns. Let us here find out if the word “what” is an object pronoun.

The pronoun “what” cannot function as an object pronoun since it does not replace or substitute the object nouns or noun phrases in a sentence. Any pronoun which substitutes the noun which is the receiving entity of the action (object) is called as object pronouns.

Example: The entire hall was decorated by them.

“Them” is the object pronoun in this sentence since it is used as a substitution for the noun which is the object of the sentence. “Them” is receiving the action of decorating the hall, thus making it an object pronoun.

The only pronouns which can be object pronouns are personal pronouns. Hence, “what” can never be an object pronoun.

Is “what” an indefinite pronoun?

Among the different types of pronouns, indefinite pronoun is a type of pronoun that is not specific. Let us get to know if the word “what” can be an indefinite pronoun.

The word “what” cannot function as an indefinite pronoun as it is used to interrogate and relate back to specific or particular things, names, objects or animals (nouns or noun phrases). An indefinite pronoun is the one that is used as a substitution for an unspecific noun.

Example: Anybody can find the answer to this problem.

In this sentence, the word “anybody” is an indefinite pronoun since it is replacing a noun (a person) that is not particular and specific. “Anybody” can refer to any person.

When is “what” not considered as pronoun?

Along with pronouns, the word “what” can belong to one more part of speech depending upon the way it is used. Here, we will see when is “what” not considered as a pronoun.

The word, “what” is not a pronoun when it is describing the nouns or noun phrases instead of replacing them. “What” is an interrogative adjective when it is utilized along -side a naming word for the purpose of interrogation.

Example: What ice cream would you like to order for desert?

In the above sentence, “what” is not an interrogative pronoun but is an interrogative adjective. Instead of substituting the naming word “ice cream”, the word “what” is utilized along with noun “ice cream” (a thing) in order to ask a question, to know more about the flavor of the ice cream, thus modifying the noun “ice cream”.

Conclusion

From this article we have got a clear understanding about the ways in which the word “what” can be used as a pronoun.

Sowndharya Jagadeeswaran

Hi... I am Sowndharya Jagadeeswaran, a university rank holder in M.A. English Literature. I have also done my master's in Business Administration. Inquisitive as I am, my interest in action-oriented research helped me publish research papers in reputed journals. Now, as a career, I am an instructor where I teach young and adorable students the intricate technicalities of Public Speaking and Creative Writing. I also enjoy writing articles on topics I specialize and research in. You can connect with me through LinkedIn.-https://www.linkedin.com/in/sowndharya-j-972378233

Recent Posts