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Given an "answer" of:

They are hiking in the woods.

What is the difference in the following two ways to ask the question to elicit this response:

  • What are they doing?
  • What do they do?

Are they both present progressive, or different forms? And are they both correct or is only one (or one is more correct than the other)?

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    "What do they do?" invites "They hike in the woods." Somewhat related: "Do you like dancing?" is not the invitation of "Dance?" Commented Jun 30 at 1:58
  • I see, what "form" then is 'What do they do'? Is that simple present instead of present progressive?
    – David542
    Commented Jun 30 at 2:29
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    People do not ask "What do they do?" unless they're asking about their job or profession. It simply is not done.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 30 at 2:30
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    "Where are they now?"/"What are they doing today?" "They are hiking in the woods." "What do the people who come here do for relaxation (generally)?" "They hike in the woods." This looks like a question for English Language Learners though.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 30 at 11:05
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    This question is similar to: What's the difference between Simple Present vs. Present Progressive for expressing a habit?. If you believe it’s different, please edit the question, make it clear how it’s different and/or how the answers on that question are not helpful for your problem.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 30 at 13:40

1 Answer 1

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What is the difference in the following two ways to ask the question to elicit this response:

  • What are they doing?
  • What do they do?

The difference is:

  • The person asking the question will in all likelihood be satisfied with the answer (first case).
  • The person asking the question may be dissatisfied with the answer (second case) – especially if he’s proficient in English – and ask a follow‑up question such as I mean, what do they do for a living?

Are they both present progressive […] forms?

All the progressive tenses use the gerund – “the ‑ing form” – of a verb. Do you see an ‑ing suffix in the sentence What do they do??

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