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My question is in the title above. I'm asking in informal way, I mean, can I use that in my daily conversation? This problem arose from learning languages app. The app said the correct answer is

What are you thinking?

I consulted this problem to the app group, some English native speakers said it's incorrect to say what're, even though I've seen that word from an English comic (I don't care whether it's informal, since I only use that in my conversation). The second problem is the preposition about. Is it not OK to put about after think when we use it as an interrogative sentence?

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  • What was the question in the app? Was it about rearranging words? Did you have to construct a question including the word prop?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 6:09

2 Answers 2

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This would be a perfectly ordinary thing for a native English speaker to say. If you asked them to write down what they had just said, they would almost certainly write, "What are you thinking about?" even if they had not clearly articulated the words "what are" in their spoken conversation; they would simply think of this as the normal way to pronounce the words "what are" at normal, informal, conversational speeds. However, an author (for example of a comic) might want to evoke their character's conversational style, or even dialect, with spellings or contractions that reflect how the character is actually speaking, so that the reader will be able to "hear" the conversation more like the author intends. So, writing "What're you doin'?" gives you, the reader, a feeling for how that character's speech would actually sound.

For years (decades, centuries?) we have been taught in school that it is grammatically incorrect to use a "dangling preposition", and that "correct" sentences should always keep prepositional phrases together, such as, "About what are you thinking?" This is certainly not the rule in ordinary conversation, and that idea is also in decline even for formal writing, but it still holds some influence in formal English, and in some contexts it's still a good idea to try to keep the preposition and its object together if the result isn't too awkward. In ordinary conversation, though, that's definitely not a rule about which we usually think... er, I mean, that's not something we usually think about.

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Some contractions are very common in both speech and writing. So much so that it is wrong to expand them:

Don't drink the water (the normal sentence)

Do not drink the water (a strongly emphatic sentence, so has different nuance)

Other contractions are common in speech but normally expanded in writing.

I'm gonna take a bus (speech)

I'm going to take a bus (writing)

Even though you say "gonna" you write "going to", unless you want to show how a person pronunces the words.

Similarly you write "What are" even though you say "What're" or "Whatcha". Unless you want to indicate how a person is speaking. In a comic book, which is mostly speech bubbles, you are much more likely to use contractions like "gonna" or "what're", as these show speech. In normal writing you should expand these to "going to" and "what are".

This is an aspect of English that is changing. In the past you would be expected to expand all the contractions in formal writing. "I am", "do not" and so on. Now these are very commonly written as contracted, even in fairly formal work. Perhaps in the future "What're" will become more common in writing.

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