Assume someone does something so unexpected. Eg: Taking a sip from your coffee mug without your permission and leaving. Consider the following reactions.

Q1: Did you just drink my coffee? Q2: How can you drink my coffee? Q3: What did you just do?

I have seen a number of times people using something like the first one. To me, the second and third ones are more meaningful. Any reason to prefer the first one to the other two? Which is more idiomatical?

I personally prefer the third one. Is that correct idiomatically?

1 Answer 1


1) is more straightforward when it comes to expressing surprise or bemusement with someone's actions - you indicate that you saw what they did, but it surprised you so much you have to confirm that what you saw was real.

That said, 3) isn't wrong or non-idiomatic. Personally I'd prefer it in a context where I see the aftermath of the action, but don't exactly know what happened - for example, I enter the kitchen and see my coffee mug shattered on the floor. But I don't think it would be wrong to use it in place of 1) - though it might come off a bit harsher than 1) (cf. what did you just say?, which is an idiomatic way to express anger and offense).

2) is a bit different - it very strongly indicates that you're angry and offended at what the other person did. It's similar to how dare you in that regard.

Also, 2) should probably be how could you...?, or how can you be + Present Continuous if they're still in the process of doing that thing.

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