1

One friend is asked me, “What do you do?” And, "How are you doing?”

I started thinking, what is the difference between these?

  • "What do you do?"
  • "How do you do?”
  • "How are you doing?"
2

“How are you doing?” and “How do you do?” are questions asking about how someone is feeling, although “How do you do?” has a more formal register to it, and I wouldn’t expect to hear it very much in the US, except perhaps in a formal introduction.

As often as not, these two questions are used as a form of greeting, and the person asking the question isn’t necessarily looking for an answer to the question. However, that’s partly contextual. If I’m recovering from surgery, and a nurse asks, “How are you doing?” I’ll assume the nurse wants to know if I’m in pain or not. If I’m walking down the hallway and a coworker asks, “How ya doin’?” as he’s passing by, I’ll assume it’s just a friendly greeting, and answer with something like, “Good, and you?”

On the other hand, “What do you do?” is a question that’s usually meant to ask what you do for a living. In other words, the person could ask, “What kind of work are you in?”

I wouldn’t expect to hear both questions asked without an answer exchanged in between them. So, a dialogue might go something like this:

"Hello, how do you do?"
"I’m doing fine, thank you. And you?"
"Quite well. May I ask, what do you do?"
"I’m a carpenter."
"Well, it sure must be nice that the weather is getting warmer.”

That dialogue shows what your questions mean, but it’s more formal than most friendly introductions might be. In a more informal setting, that conversation would sound more like this:

“Hey, how’s it going?"
“Pretty good – you?"
“I’m fine, thanks. You know, I just realized, I don’t know what line of work you’re in."
“Oh, I’m a carpenter."
"Well, you must appreciate this nicer weather we’ve been having.”

2

In the UK, there is a class element connected with the greeting "How do you do?". This greeting is formal. It is not meant as a question and an answer is not expected. The "correct" response is to say "How do you do?" back. Saying "Fine, thanks" might be seen as a sign of ill-breeding or lack of education. It is a subtle social indicator.

  • Thank you, I am very happy to know this advanced explanation, and found this on OALD. Then I was thinking of my own language, there are some of these class elements too. Is there a book for the phrases at the typical occasion/manner? (which is the selection of words/phrase grammatically correct but people don't use the way that it represents.) In my own language, there're tons of these, and it is not possible to list them up completely, frankly I feel very hard to find them myself, but when I explain foreign students and they tell me! – Sadaharu Wakisaka Aug 2 at 23:09

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