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What Do You Do or What Are You Doing?

Ask a Teacher
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What Do You Do or What Are You Doing?
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Today we answer a question from Emad.


He writes, “I would like to know the difference between what do you do? and what are you doing? When do you use both?” - Emad


Dear Emad,

Those are excellent questions. One question is about a person’s work or profession, and the other is about what action a person is doing at the moment, or in the near future.

Asking about a profession

We will take the work example first.

Imagine that you meet someone at a party.

The person asks you: ‘What do you do?’

What they mean is: ‘What do you do for a living? Or ‘What is your profession?’

You would answer them by stating the kind of work you do, like this:

“I am a writer,” or “I am a doctor” or “I drive a bus.”

Asking about activities

Now, on to the other question.

Maybe you get a phone call and your friend asks:

“What are you doing?”

They are not asking what you do for a living, but what activity are you doing at that time.

Your answer might be something like this:

“I’m reading a book. It’s great!”


“I’m cooking dinner for the family.”

Activities during a time

Sometimes, the question “What do you do…” may include a day or period of time. For example, someone may ask, “What do you do on weekends?” In this case, they are asking what activities you usually do on weekends. They are not asking about your profession.

Here is an example of what you might say:

“I usually take things easy, go out with friends or do other activities, like exercise or go for a run.”

However, when you add a time period to “What are you doing?,” you are asking what activity the person is doing at a specific time in the near future.

Here is an example.

“What are you doing after work today?”

One might say:

“I am thinking of going out to dinner. Do you want to come with me?”

And That’s Ask a Teacher!

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

moment – n. a brief period of time; a little while