I am watching the drama called Friends at the moment and many times actors used to say one of "what is with", "what is up with" and "what is wrong with". I think it seems that those expressions are a little bit similar to each other.

Please, tell me how those expressions are different.

  • +1 for learning English from a popular TV drama. These are usually synonymous, but listen carefully to the prosody (rise and fall of the voice pitch). In normal speech, What is are at the same pitch. If a character (say, Joey) is angry at another (say Phoebe), the What is at a higher pitch than the is.
    – rajah9
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 12:36
  • "What is with...?" That doesn't sound familiar to me. Are you sure it isn't "What is it with ...?" which is the natural way to inquire about the state of things (as though something looks amiss). eg "What is it with that guy? He never seems to get to work on time."
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 14:32

2 Answers 2


“What is up with” is a more positive approach and more polite whereas “what is wrong with” is negative. We use the later for unpleasant things and happenings or expect unpleasant outcome. Having doubts etc.. What is up with Mark? He’s not home yet. What is wrong with Mark? He’s not home yet.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U! Please include sources in your answer to improve its quality. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 8:13
  • "What is wrong with..." implies that you know something is wrong. "What is up with..." suggests that you are aware of some issue involving that person but don't know whether it is good or bad. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 9:09
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    @Kate I'd say 'What is up with ...' also strongly suggests a fear of something wrong As per CED: . what's up? ... informal ... ​ used to ask someone what the problem is: ............. What's up - why does everyone look so serious? ....... What's up with Terry? // Perhaps this is another US / UK difference. Are you USian? // 'What's with Mark?' over here in the UK throws in, I'd say, a hint of exasperation, and/or emphasis on surprise at rumours one's heard. Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 10:13
  • @EdwinAshworth No, I'm British. I was surprised to find that dictionaries seem to regard "What's up?" meaning "What's happening?" as an Americanism. Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 11:48
  • @Kate Always best to check. Dictionaries sample better than individuals (as a rule). Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 16:26

What are the differences between

"what is with", - This is irregular in BE, but acceptable in American Englsh (idiom/colloquial) and probably comes from the German or Yiddish in which the structure is correct "Was ist mit..."

"what is up with" (idiom/colloquial) = This is correct. It is only used as a question = what is wrong [with something or someone]; what is causing [someone to be upset]; what is causing [something] to malfunction.


"what is wrong with" - see above.

MW gives up, adj, 2a(1): marked by agitation, excitement, or activity

  • "What is up with you?" should of course not be confused with "What's up with you?" The latter is an inquiry after news or similar.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 14:05

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