I encountered two sentences in a movie.

  1. What am I, talking to myself here?
  2. Who are you to judge me?
  1. Meant You aren't listening to me.

My question:

It looks like both sentences have the same structure, so why does No.1 use v-ing and No.2 use to-verb?


Can we express 1 as What am I, to talk to myself here?

  • 2
    They're not really "the same structure". Note that #1 is syntactically invalid anyway. Ignoring the irrelevant adverbial here, it should be What am I talking about to myself?, What am I saying to myself?, Why am I talking to myself?, or similar. Jan 23, 2017 at 15:35
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    What am I . . . talking to myself here? is common in speech, and means What am I [doing], talking to myself here? and is used to accuse someone of not listening. Jan 23, 2017 at 15:51
  • 2
    Alternately, it can be parsed as "What, am I talking to myself here?" but the meaning is the same.
    – stangdon
    Jan 23, 2017 at 15:53
  • @Jim Reynolds: Omitting the word doing certainly isn't "common" in my speech (or any of the people I've listened to all my life). stangdon - that would be What? or What!. Jan 23, 2017 at 15:53
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers - You've never seen what used as an interjection that way? I've certainly seen it used with a comma, although I can't find an example right now because search engines almost uniformly ignore punctuation.
    – stangdon
    Jan 23, 2017 at 17:12

2 Answers 2


These are separate and unrelated idiomatic expressions. The first implies the other person isn't paying attention, and can be phrased in various ways:

I feel like I'm talking to myself.

Am I just talking to myself or are you listening?

Oh yeah, you just finish that text while I stand here and talk to myself.

It's most often phrased as the present progressive to indicate an ongoing and immediate action, but it doesn't have to be. The important thing is to use it in a grammatically correct way, and in a context where it makes sense. It is possible to literally "talk to yourself" (which people do all the time) but in this context you want to imply that is not your intention, that you had expected the other person to be listening, but they are not.

The second expression implies that the other person or persons have no right to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Again, many possible phrases:

No one can judge me!

Don't judge me!

Stop judging me!

You have no right to judge me!

And so on. Most often it is expressed in the simple present to indicate a general principle, or a recurring action, but it doesn't have to be.

To answer your other question "What am I to talk to myself here" is not quite right. "Who am I to talk to myself here?" is better. Although I'm not quite sure what it might mean, it is grammatically correct and might make perfect sense in context.

Side note: Some ethnic vernaculars are known to phrase questions where other vernaculars would use statements. "Who am I to talk to myself here?" sounds like it would be one of those.

  • Neither is an idiom. The OP doesn't ask about the meaning of either, but rather about why an -ing form is used in the first, and a full infinitive in the second, if the assumption that they are parallel structures, which they aren't. But this answer does contain some information that readers may find useful. Jan 25, 2017 at 18:09
  • @JimReynolds would it be ok to call them "idiomatic expressions" then? I feel as if both imply more than a simple literal interpretation.
    – Andrew
    Jan 25, 2017 at 18:11
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    Compare an expression like it's a piece of cake (meaning it's easy) to these. That is an idiom because we can't interpret the meaning based on assembling the ordinary meanings of the words. The line between what is and isn't an idiom can get blurry in some comparisons, and turn into deep philosophy pretty quickly, I think. But at an ordinary level, the OP's sentences are not idioms because they can be understood by putting together their constituent words. Idiomatic expression is just another name for idioms. Jan 25, 2017 at 18:34
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    I do see a logic in thinking that #1, for example, is like an idiom. It requires a step in reasoning to understand how such a question really means something like You're not listening to me. But we can see that in many utterences. Have fun can mean lots of different things, for example, depending on context, tone of voice, etc., requiring interpretation and not being "literal" or plain or simple, but we won't think of it as an idiom. Jan 25, 2017 at 18:42
  • The answer has value, I think. I've learned a lot from both reading and writing imperfect answers. Keep going. :) Jan 25, 2017 at 18:46

Short Answer

1) They do not have the same structure.

2) No, you cannot make that change.

Long Answer

1) The first one is actually supposed to be, "What? Am I talking to myself here?"

It's a yes/no question using the present continuous.

2) The second one is, "Who are you to judge me?"

It's a wh-question using the simple present.

  • What is your basis for asserting that #1 is "supposed to be" represented like that? It could be, but not necessarily, nor even most likely. I'd say it's more usefully described as a rhetorical question--not intended to be answered--rather than a yes/no question. Jan 25, 2017 at 18:15
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    @JimReynolds. What you say is not at odds with what I had said. I agree it's both a rhetorical question and a yes/no question: it's a rhetorical yes/no question. Jan 26, 2017 at 7:51
  • 1
    That seems to make sense. Jan 27, 2017 at 17:02

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