- For Teachers
What does "what are you" mean?
What's the difference between "What are you?" and "Who are you?"
Thank you for your help.
At school I was taught 'what are you' is used to ask about someone's job, but ... is it common?
I remember asking some native speakers this question, and they had quite a puzzling expression on their faces, like "err...what do you mean?" :)
I would never say "what are you". To find out someone's job you might say "what do you do?" (direct), or "what sort of work are you involved in?" (more diplomatic).
"Who are you" is also very direct / rude, and would be rarely used. I can think of one example, e.g. a telephone "cold-caller". In that case, you might not be so worried about your manners!
Indeed, I'm not surprised that people were unsure how to answer "What are you?"
My first instinct is to answer "A human being, the same as you."
As a native speaker, I associate the phrase "What are you?" as a negative. "What are you? Some kind of monster? Who would do that?!" -- Said in outrage in response to an action your find abhorrent. (A good word to add to your vocabulary if you don't have that one.)
What do you do for a living? -- This is a non-ambiguous way to ask about someone's job.
Last edited by Barb_D; 28-Mar-2011 at 16:41.
I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.
My Birmingham, England relatives have on occasion used the expression "What are you?" to mean something like "Aren't you amazing." Or at least I think that's what they meant. I can't understand the Black Country accent, and sometimes mistake it for a dialect of Dutch.