What for? vs. For what? [reply to 'Thank you.']

eli7

Senior Member
Persian (Farsi)
Greetings,
I know that "what for" means "why" or "for what purpose". But I have heard "for what" too.
Now I want to know which one is the most common or maybe the proper expression? or they may be interchangeable?
 
  • eli7

    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    I do nor remember the exact dialogues, but as I am watching LOst series for the second time, I have heard it several times that people sometimes say "what for" and sometimes say "for what".
    I just want to know if there is a difference.
     

    eli7

    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    Thank yoy Beryl.
    In the link you provided I found these sentences:
    $90 million for what?






    For What It's Worth: The Gossip Is That Apple Also Tried To Buy Instagram

    Shouldn't they be "what for?"
     

    eli7

    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    Thanks Copyright.
    I think I haven't made my self clear.
    I was trying to ask about the reply to the expression "Thank you".
    Some people don't have any idea what the other one is talking about and thanking them, so they may ask: "what for?"
    The problem is, I have heard "For what?" too.
    Now I want to know if they are interchangeable, or there is a reason for that.
    A:Thank you.
    B:What for? (I have heard "for what" too)

    I can name another usage of "what for and for what":

    A:Sorry
    B:for what? (here, can "what for" be used?)

    A:You have to come with me, because I need you there.
    B:For what? (can it be "what for"?)
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    While I think you can use, and certainly will hear, What for? in response to those questions, I would nearly always use For what?

    A: I'm sorry.
    B: (You are sorry) For what?

    A: You have to come with me, because I need you there.
    B: (You need me there) For what (reason)?
     

    eli7

    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    I see. Thanks :)
    So "for what" and "what for" are interchangeable, but when we use "for what" there is actually a deliberate deleting of a word (it's hidden in the meaning of "for what"), but when we use "what for" this kind of "word-deletion" doesn't occur. Am I right.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ask me 10 minutes later and I'll agree that they're virtually interchangeable. :) I probably pick one or the other without thinking too much about it (or listening to myself).

    The examples I gave you are simply the way my mind works occasionally. I don't think they have any real value in choosing one over the other ... and I don't imagine myself leaving out words when I say "For what?"
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    As a response to "Thank you" or "Sorry" I would probably use "For what?" but I don't claim to do that consistently, and I don't in any case see it as amounting to anything much more than personal preference.
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    As a response to "Thank you" or "Sorry" I would probably use "For what?" but I don't claim to do that consistently, and I don't in any case see it as amounting to anything much more than personal preference.
    Do you mean either can be used?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    US English
    "What for?" is often "What (is this) for?", which means "What is the purpose of this?" It can also mean "Why".

    Father: Did you bring your wallet?
    Son: What for? (What would I bring my wallet for?)


    "For what? is always a repeat of something someone said, substituting the question word "what" for an unknown noun. For example:

    Father: Be thankful.
    Son: For what? (Be thankful for what?)
    Father: Be thankful for teachers that forgive small mistakes.You could have been suspended.
    Son: You're right. I should be thankful for having a nice teacher like Mr. Thomas.

    Mr. Nasty: I will get even with you!
    Mr. Nice: For what? (You will get even for what?)
    Mr. Nasty: You got the contract that I needed.
    Mr Nice: I didn't know you wanted it. Hey, let's make a deal.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It's just that two grammatical constructions can be used to perform the same function - to clarify or ask a question. Imagine the thanking situation.

    You can use an interrogative structure: What (are you thanking me) for?

    You can use the declarative structure: (You are thanking me) for what?
    (Other examples: And you name is ...? And you have go in touch to do what?)
    Sometimes the 'what' can be left out.

    A: Thank you!
    B: For ...?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    US English
    In some languages, you create a question by writing a sentence and replacing a word with a question word (what? why? who? how? when?). There is no re-arranging the sentence. The question word is like a "blank" (_______) in tests. For example:

    Chinese mom: Your math teacher is who?
    Chinese girl: My math teacher is Mr. Shang.


    This isn't the most common way to make a question in English. But we can do this in English. We do this in "For what?":

    American mom: Thank the man, Susan.
    American girl: For what? (Thank the man for ___)
     
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