I was reading an article and there was a line that has what's to stop:

If the Big Tech oligarchs can muzzle the former President, what's to stop them from silencing you?

What does "What's to stop" mean here? It seems to be of the form of "be + to + verb" construction. As per the explanation from Collins Dictionary, "Be + to + Verb" can be used to talk about the plans in the future, or to give instructions or commands.

Does it convey the same meaning as "What could stop them from silencing you" or "What will stop them from silencing you"?

  • 1-It's an idiom. 2-Sounds like my Noo Yawk. 3-It is a common dare ("What's it too ya, huh?") and the opposite of formal, as the link suggests. Commented Mar 3 at 14:57
  • 2
    It's a shortened form of "what is there to do something". In this case it means "what exists to stop them".
    – dubious
    Commented Mar 3 at 14:59
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    It is the question form of there is nothing to stop them or there isn't anything to stop them. It's an imbedded rhetorical question, and yes, an idiom. Note what's stopping them from ... is less rhetorical.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Mar 3 at 15:19
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    to stop [someone] from doing something is completely idiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 3 at 15:24

1 Answer 1


'What's to stop them from silencing you' indeed means 'What could possibly stop them from silencing you.'

Though probably best treated as a fixed expression, and looking at possibility (however slight),

(What's to stop me/you/her/them/it/the Government ... from Ving ...) (but often fronted by 'What's', not usually by say 'John's')

does seem related to the more general 'be to do something' (conveying a command):

He's/You're to stop them from leaving even if it means he needs/you need to lock them in their room!

Interestingly, we now need a volitional agent, while 'What's ...?' doesn't, and even strongly suggests a non-volitional agent. Though of course 'Who's' could also be used.

The 'purpose' sense of 'be to V' doesn't need a volitional agent:

The handcuffs are to stop him from resisting

but this is a different sense.

  • I read the meaning of the phrase more like what Phil Sweet said in his comment on the question. But the rest of the answer is spot on.
    – user183165
    Commented Mar 4 at 1:40

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