The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s your weekend look like?

Q: The other day I got a brochure in the mail with a cover that read, “What’s your weekend look like?” Yikes! So embarrassing!

A: The writer of that brochure used “what’s” as a casual or informal contraction of “what does.” But in standard written English, “what’s” is normally a contraction of either “what is” or “what has” (as in “What’s you name?” or “What’s he done now?”).

In written English, the verb “do” is normally contracted only with “not”—in “don’t,” “didn’t,” and “doesn’t.” It’s not usually contracted with a pronoun (like “what”).

When people use “what’s” to mean “what does”—shrinking “does” to an apostrophe and “s”—they’re more likely to be talking than writing.

In discussing contracted forms of the verb “do,” Sidney Greenbaum writes in the Oxford English Grammar: “The contracted form ’s is only occasionally found in writing: Who’s she take after?, What’s he say? It is more common in informal speech.”

In another oral contraction we sometimes hear, “did” is reduced to an apostrophe and “d,” as in “What’d they say?” This too is often heard in speech but very seldom used in writing (except written dialogue).

So we don’t think this use of “what’s” belongs in good writing, unless you’re deliberately trying to to sound colloquial, and it probably shouldn’t have appeared in a brochure seeking business. But we don’t consider it an egregious error, and it’s fairly common in casual conversation.

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