What and what

What and its derivatives had a wide range of interrogative and exclamatory uses, many of which are still found today; the chief difference in Shakespearian English is their reference to people as well as things, where today we would use who. Whatever shows very little other difference, apart from the way its elements can be split as what ... ever. Whatsoever is generally equivalent to whatever, and is still found in emphatic use in modern English (though not in the -e’er form). Syntactic usage occasionally varies, as in ‘As if that whatsoever god who leads him’ (Cor II.i.211) and ‘what and if / His sorrows have so overwhelmed his wits?’ (Tit IV.iv.9), where modern English drops the and - ‘what if’. The examples below distinguish uses of the compound forms as adjective and conjunction.


Item Location Example Gloss
what AYL II.iv.85 What is he that shall buy his flock and pasture? who
what KL V.iii.98 What in the world he is / That names me traitor whoever
what 2H4 I.ii.114 What tell you me of it? why, what for
what Mac III.iv.125 [Macbeth] What is the night? [Lady Macbeth] Almost at odds with morning how much time has passed?
what though (conj.) 2H6 I.i.156 What though the common people favour him what happens if, what does it matter if
what though (as elliptical sentence) AYL III.iii.46 here we have no temple but the wood ... But what though? so what?, what if it is so?


Item Location Example Gloss
whatever, whate’er AYL II.vii.110 But whate’er you are ... in this desert inaccessible whoever
what ... ever Oth III.iii.466 to obey shall be in me remorse, / What bloody business ever whatever
whatsoever, whatsoe’er (adj.) 2H6 IV.x.29 rude companion, whatsoe’er thou be whatever
whatsoever, whatsoe’er (conj.) MM IV.ii.117 Whatsoever you may hear to the contrary whatever
whatsoever, whatsoe’er (conj.) R3 III.iv.65 doom th’offenders: whatsoever they be whoever
whatsomever, whatsome’er (adj.) Ham I.ii.249 And whatsomever else shall hap tonight whatever
whatsomever, whatsome’er (conj.) AC II.vi.97 All men’s faces are true, whatsome’er their hands are whatever
whatsomever, whatsome’er (conj.) AW III.v.50 Whatsome’er he is whoever



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