I've just heard an unfamiliar phrase from a video:

What's the driver say?

At first, I thought I just couldn't follow what the actor said but I confirmed that what I had heard was right from the script.

I can imagine three similar sentences which are grammartically correct:

  1. What did the driver say?
  2. What has the driver said?
  3. What is the driver saying?

The expression 'What's the driver say?' does not correspond to none of these. Is this some kind of erratic colloquial expression which means one of above sentences? Or, does this mean something different?

  • 3
    How about "What does the driver say?" -- as in "What does he have to say" or "What does he say about that"? – Andrew Leach Jun 3 '15 at 12:56
  • 2
    Yes, it's a contraction of "what does". I can't find anything besides "what" that "does" contracts after. And the version in your title, *"What's one say?" does not work for me. But "What's he say?" is okay. – Greg Lee Jun 3 '15 at 13:16
  • 1
    @Greg: 's for does is characteristic of very relaxed speech, but How's he know?, for example, is reasonably common. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '15 at 15:16

From English Pronunciation in Use (Martin Hewings, 2007)...

When does follows a wh- word1, it can be pronounced /s/ or /z/, but isn't left out completely.

What does he do? = What's he do?
When does it start? = When's it start?
(not What he do? When it start?)

As per @Greg's comment, this particular contraction is almost never used in other contexts. Also, it won't always sound "natural", and unlike more "standard" contractions (can't, isn't, won't) there's rarely any reason to transcribe it, and your speech won't ever sound stilted even if you never say it.

1 @Janus Bahs Jacquet's comment below is highly relevant...

Note that wh- word here doesn’t necessarily just mean the interrogative word itself, but the entire interrogative phrase it’s in; thus...
What time’s it start?
Who in the bloody hell’s he think he is?
...both work fine as well.

  • 3
    Note that “wh- word” here doesn’t necessarily just mean the interrogative word itself, but the entire interrogative phrase it’s in; thus “What time’s it start?” or “Who in the bloody hell’s he think he is?” both work fine as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 3 '15 at 15:39
  • @Janus: Good point. I've added it to my text, on the grounds it's an essential part of the answer that we wouldn't want to lose through over-zealous tidying-up of comments by mods. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '15 at 15:48
  • ...I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's never used in any other context. I find myself unable to picture (or whatever the word is for imagining an auditory phenomenon! :) any native speaker making this contraction anywhere else, no matter how drunk or otherwise prone to sloppy speech. Maybe the right measuring equipment would prove there's no actual /d/ in my most relaxed rendition of It'sn't work (for It doesn't work), but I'm sure both me and my audience would think the /d/ was present. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '15 at 16:07
  • Like other auxiliaries, does can become a clitic. It’s subject to more or less the same rules of cliticisation, too, which means that double cliticisation is not allowed: just like I’mn’t and they’ven’t don’t work, so does it’sn’t not. Only unstressed auxiliaries are cliticised, and does is only that in (a) interrogative and (b) negative clauses. In (b) not is more likely to be cliticised. In (a) will is either clause-initial (nothing to attach to), or follows an interrogative phrase, which is what we have here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 3 '15 at 16:22
  • The only thing that sets does apart is that just like you’ve got it’s not and it isn’t side by side, you’d expect to have it’s not and it doesn’t side by side, too—but only the latter is used. That is a bit odd, but perhaps not very—the -’s clitic to a noun is rather overused already, after all, being both has and is and the possessive marker, and the plural marker: the kid’s = the child is, the child has, of the child, the children. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 3 '15 at 16:26

It simply means "What is the driver's opinion on [the topic at hand]?"

"Should we buy the other company?"

"I'm not sure. What's Steve say?"

or "What does Steve say?"

It's exactly the same as saying: "What does Steve have to say on the issue?"

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