I have always used "What are you doing", but a basic grammar rule is that for plural things you use "are" and for singular you use "is".

But when you say something like "What are you doing?", you are talking to a singular person. So what's the explanation of using "are" when talking to a singular person?

  • 3
    That's not the rule. I am, you are, he is, we are, they are. – Hot Licks Feb 14 '17 at 3:49
  • @George Cavazoz:" "What are you doing?", you are talking to a singular person." Not always so. When there are more than one person in front of you, still you ask, 'what are you doing?'. Your thinking is interesting: How does 'you' become plural, when 'you' refers to a single person? That's part of unavoidable exceptions of all rules. Why 'I am', when 'he is' and 'You are'? – mahmud k pukayoor Feb 14 '17 at 4:24
  • "What" is the object of "doing", so "you are doing what? ~ "what are you doing?". 2nd person pronouns take "are" ("I am. you are, he is, etc". – BillJ Feb 14 '17 at 19:30

You use is for third-person singular subjects. The subject here is the second person singular pronoun you. Though subjects normally precede the inflected verb in English, the order of the subject and inflected verb is inverted in certain constructions, such as this question construction.


What do you think about this car? / What does he think about this car?
Have you ever been to China? / Has Alice ever been to China?


The reason for this anomaly is that you is intrinsically plural. It is being used instead of the singular thou and thee out of politeness (or at least that was the original reason - see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou#History).

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