A model, while being filmed, is also getting her make-up. Vogue (see: 5:57-6:03)

She says: "I have been gettin my makeup done for about, what, two hours?"

When she is saying this, she can't be quite sure how long it has been, so she hesitates to give a number and thinks about it for a while and looks at her makeup artist simultaneously, and says, What?

Just as she is looking at him and saying "....What?", he says: "Two hours."

And then she becomes certain and repeats what she has heard from him: "Two hours now."

The use of "what" by her has drawn my attention, because it seems to function as "how many" and asking for a number rather than a thing, as in the case of "What do you weigh?" instead of "How much do you weigh?"

So, my question is: Is using "what" in place of "how many" correct or is it just colloquial?

  • It could mean "What length of time?" Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 18:05

1 Answer 1


Great question.

The use of "what" there is not part of the grammatical structure, but is an interjection. If you remove "what", the grammar doesn't change. In writing, this "what" should be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

"What" here indicates uncertainty about how to continue the thought, and invites the listener to help. It does not have the common function of "what", roughly meaning "which thing". So in your quote, "what" and "two hours" are not a question and answer. Any part of speech can come after "what", not just nouns.

Here are some natural examples of this function of "what" with different parts of speech after:

This ceramic bowl is broken, so I should repair it with, what, superglue? Epoxy? (nouns)
The suspect has a hostage, so the officer will probably, what, start a dialogue? (conjugated verb phrase)
You just left her there? She now she's, what, walking home alone in the dark? (participial phrase)
He found out about the party, what, by reading my emails? (prepositional phrase / adverbial)
You just fired me, and now, what, you expect me to do you a favour? (clause)

To really make the point that "what" isn't a question, I can even insert a question into your example sentence, and it's still correct and natural:

I have been gettin my makeup done for, what, how long, about two hours?

In that version, "about two hours" is the answer to "how long", not "what".

  • 1
    Those are great examples to show it doesn't always mean how long.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 19:30
  • My mother drank -- what -- two bottles of gin before attacking the police officers. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 20:27

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