what's that or what was that?

When we want someone to repeat what they just said, what do we say:

  1. What’s that?
  2. What was that?
  3. What [color=red]was that? (which sounds exactly like “what’s that?”)


Hi Ruifeng (S&S)

Sometimes people will say “What’s that?” when they want someone to repeat what they’ve just said. What’s means what is.

People also sometimes say “What was that?” When the word ‘was’ is shortened in speech, it may seem somewhat similar, but to me it would never be identical to what’s. You generally can still hear the word ‘was’ if you listen carefully. (The word ‘was’ is typically unstressed in such a question.)


By the way, the inability to log in under your own (original) forum name is apparently not new here. I was unable to access my 'Yankee' account for almost 3 years. Then, out of the blue, I was mysteriously given access to it again.

Why not pardon or sorry? These words are much shorter and ideal for communication, I think. What was that seems grammatically better but…we don’t usually use it??

Hi Bookaholic,

Right, there are plenty of other ways to ask someone to repeat something.

Since I’m aware that Ruifeng has watched lots of Seinfeld episodes, for example, I suspect he’s heard someone actually use 'What’s that?" as a way to ask someone to repeat something. He probably also thought ‘what’s’ would logically be ‘what was’. However, that is not the case. That’s why I talked about pronunciation differences.

Hi BE,

I think people use something like ‘what’s that?’ very often. If spoken like that, it contains two syllables… as do ‘pardon’ and ‘sorry’ (both of which are also acceptable, of course).