9

I'd like to know if there is any difference between these two phrases when they are used for expressing the feeling that you think something is wrong with somebody.

He's acting very weird. What's up with him?

and

He's acting very weird. What's with him?

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    Interesting question. I'd say there is no significant difference between those two queries. – J.R. Feb 4 '13 at 10:20
8

They both can be used to ask about the basis of an observation that something is wrong. However, there is a subtle difference.

The question What's with him? almost always indicates that the speaker thinks that there is something wrong with him or his behavior.

The sentence What's up with him? can be used to mean the same thing, if there is a context indicating that there is a concern. However, this sentence can be used in a neutral, non-critical way.

I know Jim was trying to decide about his next job. What's up with him?

I can be a simple inquiry, where What's with him? is almost always negative.

Often the inflection is used as a clue. For the phrase What's with him? the emphasis is often a very exaggerated stress on the with as in

What's WITH him?

It also could be an exaggerated emphasis on him

What's with HIM?

In the neutral use of the alternative, there might be a slight emphasis on two words

What's up with him?

  • Nice answer - one minor nitpick: I think the last example might be even more neutral with just "up" emphasized. To my ear, the more emphasis you add to "him", the more pejorative the implication seems to be. – Jaydles Mar 18 '13 at 21:03
3

Both of these phrases mean the same thing: What's the matter with him? or What's wrong with him? or What's his problem? There are other phrases that mean the same as well.

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    They might be used on different occasions. You might ask, in a sympathetic tone of voice, What's up with him? of someone who was ill, but I don't think you'd ask What's with him? – Barrie England Feb 4 '13 at 10:40
  • @Barrie: Maybe not in BrE, but What's with him? is perfectly normal in AmE. Less accomplished speakers would certainly be prone to use fewer words: Watt's wit him? instead of Watt's amadda wit him? in New Joisey-ese. – user264 Feb 4 '13 at 11:03
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    @Barrie: I think you're onto something there. If someone was sick, though, I'd probably be more inclined to ask, "What's wrong with him?" than either of those. P.S. (to Bill) "What's with him?" may be normal AmE, but I don't think I'd use it for someone who is ill; it seems more apt when asking about someone in a bad mood than sick in bed. – J.R. Feb 4 '13 at 11:47
  • I'm so used to What's [something] with him that it sounds kinda weird to me. – Androiderson Feb 4 '13 at 11:51
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    Bill, yes - just to clarify how we agree on this: "What's with him?" is fine, even ordinary, for odd behavior (as the O.P. asked about), but it sounds off, or inappropriate, for a sick person (as Barrie mentioned as an aside). – J.R. Feb 4 '13 at 16:07

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