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Why do people say:

Where are you headed?

To me, it should be:

Where are you heading?

because you usually say "We are heading out" or "I was heading north".
The initial sentence looks to me like passive voice.

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  • It is short for "Where are you headed (to)?" – user3169 Oct 26 '14 at 6:05
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    This Google Ngram chart, goo.gl/Cj9Zsq, reveals that "Where are you headed?" started gaining its popularity over "Where are you heading?" around 45 years ago. – Damkerng T. Oct 26 '14 at 11:11
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The verb HEAD can be used transitively or intransitively. In nautical terms, you can head ((transitive) = steer its head/bow) a ship/ towards something; it has then been headed, and is headed, in that direction. The ship heads ((intransitive) = moves with its head/bow in a certain direction) towards something. The people on the ship can say that they are headed (transitive, passive) or are heading (intransitive, active) towards something.

Both usages have come ashore, and people can speak of themselves heading or being headed towards something.

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  • Then "I am headed somewhere" sounds like I don't control myself and some power decides where I go instead. – Graduate Oct 27 '14 at 0:16
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    No. I was talking about the origins of the present and past participle usage. Nowadays there is no real difference in meaning. Some people prefer one, some the other. – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 8:02
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'Where are you headed?' The answer to this question demands the destination.

So the answer to this question could be 'I am headed to school'. (It's another way of saying 'I am going to school'.)

If we make this in past tense then - I was headed to school. (Again it means 'I was going to school'.)

So let's see what we can do about your doubt whether we can use this verb 'head' with 'ing' to it or not.

First of all - the formation of your question 'Where are you heading?' sounds a bit unnatural to me and never heard of it before.

Because when we are using 'heading' in a question it suggests which way you are going rather where you are going.

  1. I am headed to school. (means I am going to school)

But when I say

  1. I am heading towards school. (It means I am going in the direction where the school is situated. So that doesn't necessarily mean I am going to school.)

Let's refer to your another example of yours which is 'I am heading north'. So in this example 'north' is not a destination but it's just the direction. So you can't say 'I am headed to north' or 'I am heading to north'.

If we make this second sentence into a question then it would be -

  1. Which way you are heading?

If we want to ask for a ride then we would definitely want to know which way the person is going and not exactly where he is going. So the above question is valid for this situation.

'heading' is used in many figurative sentences.

For example

  1. Man is heading towards his own destruction.
  2. China is heading towards becoming the most powerful nation on the Earth.

So in the above examples 'heading' just explains the direction and not the destination. And also 'headed to' is not possible to use in these examples.

(I've tried my best to understand the difference myself and have come up with this explanation. However I am not 100% sure if this explanation fits. Others' opinion on this might be important and informative.)

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  • Watch this clip from Seinfeld, at 2:55 the guy says "Are you heading home?": youtube.com/watch?v=BveKDWXqyRU How can it be unnatural if they used it on Seinfeld. – Graduate Oct 27 '14 at 0:19
  • i never claimed it's the perfect answer (Read my last lines) It was just a try. Despite not being sure i wrote the answer in the hopes that someone might contradict me and come up with a better explanation which will be edifying for all of us. And About Seinfield if this is used then it can also be reversed into question, right ? So that makes your doubt self-explanatory, doesnt it ? – Leo Oct 27 '14 at 4:29
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I am a British native speaker. I have seen the formulation with "being headed" in many American novels, but in British English, we always say "heading".

While oxforddictionaries.com simply lists them as synonymous and doesn't mention any regional variation, I am confident that I have never once in my life heard a British speaker say "headed" in this context. I disagree with the poster who says that they differ in meaning (as does oxforddictionaries.com).

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I am English, and every time I hear "headed" used this way, it wrangles. The British tend to use this in past tense only.

To assign a final destination value to your course is open to interpretation. At what point of your journey do you finally stop. Unless it is to your home or the grave. If you'r going to collect kids from school, then you may be going back home after. So if some one asks you, just as your leaving your house, "Where you headed ?". Then the definitive use of, & answer, "I'm headed HOME", will confuse.

So in generalised use, it is always better to keep your answer casual and open ended and use "heading".

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