Friday, August 5

If a foreigner on Facebook asks you: “What do you do?” and “What are you doing?” ...

Today, I’ll talk about the small but very deep difference between “What do you do?” and “What are you doing?

It’s surprising to know how many non-native speakers of English are still confused about this. 

For those who already know the difference, let’s have a quick review. And for those who don’t, these are the best answers to our questions:

1.                         Q: What do you do?

A: I’m an office worker / I’m a taxi driver / I’m a doctor…  – or — I fix cellphones / I write for a magazine / I make computer programs / I run my own business / I sell cosmetics etc.

On the other hand,

2.        Q: What are you doing?

     A: I’m just surfing (browsing) the Net / I’m chatting with my friends / I’m taking a rest / I’m thinking about you (sweet!) etc.

(In fact, there are two other possible answers for Question #2 – one doesn’t mean “right now” and the other means future. But I’ll talk about them next time because you might get confused.)

You can see that the common words used with Internet are surf” and browse.” Please practice them. Also, always try to make complete sentences from today. I know it’s hard but it’s the only way to learn English. Just copy my examples above and remember them. 

In other words, follow my examples.

You can also say:

Q: What do you do?

A: I’m a salesman / I’m a singer / I’m a homemaker (housewife) I manage my own restaurant / I work at a hair salon / I make computer programs / I teach Math etc.


Q: What are you doing?

A: I’m learning how to use Facebook / I’m checking my e-mail / I’m waiting for my boyfriend / I’m looking for a new apartment online etc.


It’s a common mistake for non-native speakers to answer this way:

Q: What do you do?

A: I chat with you. X


A: I will eat dinner later. X

And many times, I’ve heard these answers from students:

Q: What are you gonna do tomorrow?

A: I eat at the restaurant. X

- and -

Q: Where are you going?

A: I go to school. X

Why? Why do we make these mistakes? Why do we misuse Tense this way?

Well, that’s because it’s very natural and easy for us to combine just: (1) Who and (2) Action. In fact, it’s very common for us to say:

I make, He go, They walk, I eat, I study, We learn etc.

Because these sentences are very easy to make, we fall into the dangerous habit of overusing Verbs in their simple form. 

I say it’s dangerous because the more we get used to doing it, the more we feel that it’s natural and correct.  After that, we start to use them in ALL situations. Which is really wrong.

In English grammar, the sentences above are called Simple Tense. But we have to change our idea that they are used in most or all situations. In fact, the sentences above have another meaning, very different from what you expect.

The sentences above mean:

I make computer programs regularly. 

He goes to school every day. 

They always walk. 

I eat breakfast every morning. 

I sometimes study at Starbucks. 

We learn English Vocabulary every night. 

In short, all the sentences above talk about not only one action but many repeated actions. They don't mean “right now.”

That’s why it’s common to use a sentence like this to talk about jobs:

Q: What do you do?

A: I sell cars. <<<< This means regular action, maybe every day


So, next time somebody asks you: “What are you doing? please make an effort to practice an answer like: “I’m practicing English on Facebook,” “I’m playing a computer game,” “I’m sending an e-mail” and other similar sentences.

I know that simply saying “I type," "I search," and “I chat” (Simple Tense) is very easy and quick to say but they’re wrong.

For your first step at learning English, please practice: “I’m typing," "I'm searching" and “I’m chatting” even though they are harder.

I hope I was able to explain this clearly. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here. Thanks for reading this lesson! 

Keep on learning !

 Registered & Protected

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