Is It Rude To Say “WHAT?” As A Response? (Explained)

As with everything else, speech and oral communication are constantly evolving.

“What?” is a word that people use when they did not understand or hear something that was said.

Some people might think it is impolite to say “what?” in this way.

In this article, we will talk about the rules of politeness when using “what?” as a response and give suggestions for how to communicate when you don’t understand something.

Here Is Why People Use “What” As A Response:

When asking someone to repeat what they said or respond to someone who calls them by their name, many people just use the word “what” as a response. People do this because it is much simpler and faster to say instead of composing full sentences, especially when others would understand them anyway.

Is It Rude to Say “What” to Ask Someone to Repeat What they Said?

When you listen to young people talk, they often use the word “what” when asking someone to repeat what they said because they didn’t catch it or understand it.

When used in this context, no other words that come after it – it’s just the single word “what.” People do this because it is much simpler and faster to say.

It is not necessarily rude to say “what” to ask someone to repeat what they said.

However, it is not the most polite thing to say either.

In the English language, the word “what” has many functions. It is commonly used to ask questions but can also be used as a pronoun or determiner.

When placed at the beginning of a sentence, the correct usage of the word “what” is to put other words after it so that it forms a proper sentence. Using the word “what” is simply incorrect in the English language.

While it is not exactly rude, it may be taken out of context when used with a different tone which is why it can sound rude to others.

Read also: Why Do People Say “AM” Instead Of “I AM”? (Explained)

What Can You Say Instead of “What”?

Whenever you can’t understand what someone is saying and want to ask them to repeat it, listed below are some sentences you can say instead of saying “what.”

These sentences are more polite and generally sound a lot better:

  • I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. What is it?
  • I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch that. Say that again, please.
  • Sorry, but can you please repeat that for me?
  • Excuse me, but can you please repeat what you just said?
  • Pardon me. Can you please repeat the last thing you said?

Is It Rude to Say “What” when Someone Calls Your Name?

Another scenario wherein people use the word “what” as a response is when someone calls them by their name.

This response is also used when someone taps them on their shoulder to catch their attention.

This response is also not considered rude, but it is also not polite. 

It borders between polite and rude, and it is a very informal way to respond when someone calls you by your name or tries to catch your attention.

Depending on the tone of your voice, it can be seen as rude by other people, or you might end up sounding like a snob.

What Can You Say Instead of “What”?

If someone calls your name or taps you on the shoulder, you can use any of the statements below to respond properly.

Here are some examples:

  • Yes?
  • Did you call my name?
  • Can I help you with something?

Do People Care if You Say “What” Back to Them?

Using “what” as a response when someone calls you or when you want someone to repeat what they said is not rude or polite.

Depending on who you are talking to, people may not care if you say “what” to respond to them.

Older people may see you as rude if you use “what” as a response. However, you would find that younger people are more forgiving.

That is because older people are not accustomed to using “what” as a response. They are used to the proper use of the word as a pronoun or to start a sentence, but never as a whole sentence in itself.

This can also depend on the setting. In a professional environment, such as in the workplace, it is better to refrain from using the word “what” as a response.

When talking to your colleagues, being professional and speaking appropriately is best.

Plus, depending on the tone of voice that you are using, it may be taken out of context, and people might see you as someone unpleasant or unapproachable if you keep using “what” as a response.

Read also: Why Do Some People Laugh All The Time? (5 Common Reasons)

Do Young People Care About this Today?

Many new slang words and phrases come from the younger generations, including new contexts for existing words.

So, in general, young people do not care if you use “what” as a response when they call you or if you want them to repeat something. They also use it quite a lot.

However, we would still recommend using it appropriately and choosing the scenarios where you want to use it.

For example, it is completely fine to use it when you are talking casually to your friends or siblings because there is a level of familiarity wherein they would never see it as being rude.

If you are in a professional environment or talking to strangers or older people, form complete sentences to say what you want and avoid using “what” as a response.

It would sound better and more appropriate in this situation.


What: Definition & Uses

Ways Of Asking Someone To Say Something Again

Responding “What” When Someone Calls You

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