I’ve heard somebody say:

All what is needed is …

I thought the correct way to phrase it was:

All that is needed is …

However, thinking about it more, the former doesn’t sound too incorrect, albeit a bit odd. Is the former grammatically correct? Am I alone in thinking the latter sounds more natural?


6 Answers 6


I'd say all what is needed is at best semi-literate. True, Google Books give over 50,000 written instances, but probably most of them are "accidental collocations" (e.g. - a sentence ending with the word "all", followed by one starting with "What is needed"). Also note that this contrasts with well over 3 million instances of all that is needed.

  • 1
    Interestingly, using wat instead of dat has the same illiterate connotation in Dutch in many cases, though it is slightly more acceptable in Dutch. Mar 20, 2012 at 17:45
  • @Cerberus: The vagaries of what's "acceptable" are tricky to pin down. A year ago I used to cringe if I saw a comment like "What Cerberus said" - but I do it myself now, and I've actually become quite fond of the form (you be sure and post another comment somewhere that I can wholeheartedly endorse, just so I can get my rocks off! :) Mar 20, 2012 at 18:12
  • Heh, but why did "what Cerberus said" trouble you so much? The problem outlined above is entirely absent from this construction. Mar 20, 2012 at 18:36
  • @Cerberus: Yeah, I know the constructions are different. But they do both involve the word "what" - all I'm saying is whereas I still think OP's one sounds "illiterate", the other one has somehow "grown on me" over the past 12 months. Mar 20, 2012 at 20:13
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    You'd better lie very still if you want this one to grown on you, what with the ungrammaticality. Mar 21, 2012 at 1:50

In some dialects of English, 'what' is used instead of 'that' as a generic relative clause.

The car what I saw this morning...

is non-standard but works in (I can't find a reference but Estuary or Cockney sounds right to me).

All what is needed...

may be a similar usage of 'what' instead of 'that' for that person's dialect.

  • Someone in Eastend London once told me You speak better English than what I do - this is a true story
    – mplungjan
    Dec 15, 2012 at 6:16

If written as All wot is needed, I could pass it off as dialectic, but in modern English all that is far more common.

All which seems to be right out.

  • I'm surprised to find that all which is needed occurs at all - it sounds pretty odd to me. But I note that according to NGram it's four times less common than even "what", and prevalence has massively declined since its heyday a century ago, so I'm not going to worry that I'm out of touch with modern usage! :) Jan 13, 2012 at 0:32

'All what is needed' = 'All that which is needed', substituting [ what with that which ].

Not necessarily ungrammatical nor odd usage. Could be uncommon, though.


It appears, on the whole, to be an archaic usage, but here’s an OED citation from 2007:

The Riemann tensor tells us all what we need to know about the intrinsic curvature and thus gravity.

Practical advice might well be to use all that, but if you want to use all what, then there are many precedents.


The OED’s definition 7 of what is ‘As simple relative (sing. or pl.): Which (or who); that.’ Within that, the first sub-category reads:

a. referring to a pronoun (demonstrative or indefinite), occasionally to a noun; originally introducing an indirect question in apposition to it especially, in later use only, in all what (now dialect or vulgar).

There are 14 supporting citations under this entry. There are others elsewhere in the OED illustrating all what, including one from ‘Timon of Athens’.

  • 3
    In your example, "us all" means "all of us". So in your example, "all" relates to "us" rather than "what".
    – MetaEd
    Jan 13, 2012 at 16:39
  • 2
    @MetaEd: How do you know? Jan 13, 2012 at 19:09
  • 2
    That's a really good question. I don't, absolutely, but interpreting language is not objective. Part of what it means to understand language is to apply something sometimes called the "cooperative principle" or the "principle of charity". Applied to this sentence, it means that if there are two ways to read the sentence, and one is grammatically incorrect and the other is grammatically correct, then in the absence of contradictory information one would read it the grammatically correct way. And this occurs automatically.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 13, 2012 at 20:26
  • @MετάEd: I was intrigued, so I Googled "tells us all what we need to know". A putative About 1,660,000 results actually petered out at just 40, but I had the impression every single one was "grammatical" (i.e. - they meant tells all of us what we need to know). Google claims About 5,290,000 results for "tells us all that we need to know", and I'm quite prepared to believe that guess. Dec 15, 2012 at 3:42
  • @FumbleFingers. I, too, have conducted further research. See my edit. Dec 15, 2012 at 8:32

A very basic but easy way to understand is: "What" relates to asking a question and "That" relates to making a statment.

So in "All what is needed....." you are asking one or all the questions "what is needed?, Is this all?, Are all these .......... that is needed for......?"

In "All that is needed..." your making the statment "All of this is needed ........" or "All of these........are needed for......."

  • 2
    This doesn't make sense at all. Sep 4, 2014 at 10:57
  • That is not the sense that what is used in here. This is the relative what, not the interrogative what. Moreover, the explanation (?) you make for either makes very little sense and is more or less impossible to follow. Sep 4, 2014 at 10:59

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