a. What all did they do last night?

I think 'what all' is used informally in American English in questions such as (a). I was wondering if it is used at all in British English and would also like to know if its meaning is any different from 'what'.

b. What did they do last night?

Does (b) mean the same as (a)?

Does it imply that they did a number of things and not just one thing?

  • 3
    Not used in British, so in BrE (a) doesn't mean anything much, its just ungrammatical. It's not an expression I recognise at all from US movies etc. I'd assume it was a simple error for "What did they all do?" Do you have any examples of this (google finds just one, from a piece of fan fiction from 2011)
    – James K
    Jan 4, 2022 at 8:19
  • 1
    I've seen it in novels as US rural regional dialogue. Jan 4, 2022 at 8:38

1 Answer 1


Linguists have found 'what all' in a number of regional dialects of English. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project on English in North America quotes sources that have found it in various parts of the US (chiefly the 'Midland' variety of US English) as well as some Scottish and Northern Irish dialects. It is not standard and may, I have the personal impression, be heard as odd or distinctly regional in many parts of the UK.

What all is a phenomenon in which what or another wh-question word (such as who or where) is followed by the word all. The following questions exhibit this phenomenon:

Where all did he go?

What all did you get for Christmas?

Who all did you meet when you were in Derry?

The song What You Want by My Bloody Valentine includes the line "What all do I say when I'm taken far away?"

In the movie Wild at Heart, the character Lula speaks this line: "I'm sorry, sweetie. I forget some moments where all you been the last two years." In the movie Out of Sight, Foley speaks the line "You'd be surprised what all you can get, you ask for it the right way"

What all (Yale University)


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