I'm going to print a poster for my colleagues co-workerswith two pictures on it. The first picture will go with caption "What you are expecting" and the second with "What is expecting you". However I'm not sure whether "what is expecting you" is good on the place, it looks like a question for me.

Is it okay or is it better to write "What you expect" and "What expects you"?

Context: It's about what you will see arriving to a certain place. For example, going to a beach you hope to see there sun and blue sea ("what you are expecting"-part) but coming to the place you see rain and wind ("what is expecting you"-part).

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    What is expecting you? is syntactically valid, but idiomatically unlikely because the act of "expecting" someone (awaiting their arrival) is normally only something a person might do (so it would usually be *Who is expecting you?). Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:24
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    ...I think maybe the concept you're trying to express is What is expected of you? Compare Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. Also England expects every man to do his duty. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:26
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    @FumbleFingers I don't understand your objection. I'm NNS, but the meaning seems quite clear to me: "What you are expecting" = What you are dreaming of. Reality: "What is expecting you" is not so bright. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:32
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    @FumbleFingers And your "rule" that "the act of "expecting" someone (awaiting their arrival) is normally only something a person might do" appears ungrounded. - there is a lot of examples where something is expecting you: A New Life Is Expecting You, This is what is expecting you once you arrive. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:43
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    @MvLog - To be fair to FumbleFingers, I had a little trouble understanding the meaning, too, until the matter was explained.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


As FumbleFingers mentions in his comment, certain actions like "expect" or "welcome" can only be done by people -- however, that doesn't mean other, nonhuman entities can't figuratively expect or welcome. It just means that we personify these entities and still use the pronoun "who" when referring to them.

England expects every man to do his duty.

Who expects every man to do his duty? England does.

Tahiti welcomes you to Tropical Paradise!

Who welcomes you? Tahiti does.

Again, this use is figurative. It's as if these inanimate objects are people, who can do things normally reserved for humans. But what about something like:

The system expects the user to input a five-digit password.

Again, if I had to pick a pronoun, I'd go with "who":

Who expects this of the user? The system does.

We can argue that "the system" is a thing and I should say what not who, but "What expects this of the user?" doesn't sound quite natural.

A better way to do what you want is to contrast expectation vs. reality. Example:

Getting a computer science degree:

What you expect: Long hours spent hacking up a killer app that you eventually sell for a billion dollars.
What you (actually) get: Meetings. Lots of meetings.

Or this meme:

enter image description here

  • I wouldn't be too categorical on the issue—I suppose it depends: sometimes who goes, sometimes what does. I can't imagine e.g. Who expects you—heaven or hell? or Who expects you in the future—happiness or demise—doesn't really matter. I'd prefer what in both cases. Moreover, for my NNS ear who is misleading—I literally begin searching for a person here—What person? Whence person? Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 16:38
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    @MvLog It depends if you want to speak "natural" English, or just communicate in whatever way works. There are hundreds of grammatical ways to figuratively pound a square peg in a round hole, and then spend perhaps minutes or hours explaining what you mean ... but perhaps a better option is to use the patterns which native English speakers use and recognize?
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:46
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    @MvLog - I definitely prefer "Who expects you—heaven or hell?" over "What expects you—heaven or hell?" and I think Andrew's answer here explains why: When using a verb of cognition such as expects or wonders or thinks, I expect whos to expect and wonder and think about things, not whats.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:58
  • @J.R. Thank you, that's important information I've never come across before. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 21:08
  • Oh, I didn't thought about "expect - get". It will work, thank you!
    – Drossel
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 8:59

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