I saw this from my dictionary:

What are you drinking?

used to offer to buy someone a drink, especially in a pub spoken.

I am wondering if this usage is indeed applied in practice. What are you drinking? to me sounds that they see I'm drinking something and ask what I am drinking at the time. How come it becomes an offer to buy me a drink?

  • It's an offer either to buy a drink or to fetch a drink for someone. For instance, if you were at a wedding reception with an "open" bar, you might say it there too, even though you're not buying anything. It's a friendly indication that you would like the conversation to continue.
    – TimR
    Jul 21, 2018 at 10:57
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo why don't we say What would you like to drink instead for this purpose?
    – dan
    Jul 21, 2018 at 14:54
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo or what do you want to drink?
    – dan
    Jul 21, 2018 at 15:34
  • "Why" is usually unanswerable. We say what we say. What are you drinking? implies that the speaker is offering another round. What have you chosen to drink tonight? I'll get another round.
    – TimR
    Jul 21, 2018 at 15:40

1 Answer 1



It's a way of talking to a person without initially using a command or some other request with inherent obligation or further action implied. It takes some pressure off the person being asked, to make a an initial committment.

What are you drinking? vs. Let me buy you a drink.

Similar to this:

Are you a good dancer? vs. Dance with me.

Similar to this:

Are you having another drink? vs. We should have another drink.

This way the asker can assess the interaction and make a nice offer or become disinterested without having made an obligation already. This takes some of the pressure off the person asking the question.

However the goal is typically to buy them a drink, not so much to offer them but to just imply that you will be doing it without the other person's expressed acceptance.

  • But is it appropriate to use it when I am actually just sitting there and have nothing to drink? And what/how should I respond to it?
    – dan
    Jul 21, 2018 at 6:24
  • Yes if you have nothing to drink, you could ask someone near you (who doesn't have a full drink) and it would be implied that you are going to offer to buy their drink. Although it can sound coy. It is generally an indirect way of making an offer. Jul 21, 2018 at 6:31
  • Perhaps it's just me but I would use "what are you drinking" as a question of someone that I already know, as part of getting a round in rather than introducing myself to a stranger. But that may be a personal or a cultural (British) thing.
    – Sarriesfan
    Jul 21, 2018 at 6:34
  • 1
    @dan sure you can. (1) What are you drinking? / (2) What do you want to drink? / (3) Can I buy you a drink? Those are three forms of the same question with three different levels of directness or assertiveness. It’s up to you to decide how assertive you want to be towards the other person. Maybe it’s a business lunch where you SHOULD be buying the person a drink, then be direct and use question (2). Maybe you’re having relatable conversation about a sports team and want to show solidarity, use (1). You see a girl at the bar and you’re not sure if she is there with someone else already, use (3) Jul 21, 2018 at 17:34
  • 1
    @BrittKelly Thank you very much for your answer and explanations!
    – dan
    Jul 21, 2018 at 23:50

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