Friday, August 5

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” – A Simple But Confusing Question in English

Imagine this situation: Your phone rings. You answer it. Your friend asks you: “What are you doing?” 
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       How would you answer?

A.     I’m talking to you.
B.     I talk to you.
C.     I will go out later.
D.     I’m reading a novel. 

If you answered B or C, please read: If a foreigner on Facebook asks you: "What do you do?"... first.

Elementary and Pre-Intermediate Level students should know that the question “What are you doing?” actually talks about a situation happening right now or exactly at this time

This is true. But this isn’t true in all situations. 

For example, if your answer is “A. I’m talking to you,” I’m sorry to say that you're wrong. In fact, think about it: This answer sounds silly or strange, right? Because it’s already clear in the situation that you are talking on the phone. You don’t need to tell the caller that you are talking. 

In this case, the correct answer is “D. I’m reading a novel even though you’re not really doing the action at the exact moment. Not right now.


This is possible because the “Be V+ing” sentence (ex. I’m studying. I’m reading. He’s eating etc.) actually has another meaning. It doesn’t always mean right now or exactly at this time.


         Q: What are you doing?

                  A: I’m reading a novel. (= Ok) 

        This is the correct answer because this means that the speaker has started doing an action but hasn’t finished it. In other words, the speaker is in the middle of the action.  

This is the second meaning of the “Be V+ing” that many students and non-native speakers don’t realize. And it’s difficult for them to understand or imagine this situation after they learned that Be V+ing = right now.

So, let's say on Facebook, the next time somebody asks you: “What are you doing?”, you can answer “I’m just checking my messages or “I’m browsing (surfing) the Net.” You will be right.

         But another answer can be I’m working on a new project or I’m doing some chores even though you aren’t actually doing the action this time. These sentences are also right. 

In short, after we’ve fixed the idea in our minds – that the “Be V+ing” is used to talk about an action happening right now or exactly at this time – we shouldn’t stop there. We should try to widen our thinking/ imagination. The “Be V+ing” doesn’t talk only about what’s happening now. 


For my last example, if you are sitting at Starbucks and drinking coffee with your friend, you don’t need – in fact you mustn’t – answer “I’m drinking coffee with you.” Because it’s not natural and it will sound silly.

Instead, you can say: “I’m packing my bags for the trip” or “I’m dating a really handsome guy.”

Lastly, sometimes we can also use “Be V+ing” sentences to talk about the future, but it would be better to talk about this another time. 

       If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please don’t hesitate to post them here.

Keep on learning ! Registered & Protected

1 comment:

  1. To Yuki Mariko and the other guys,

    Post ANY of your questions here. :-D


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