I am often asked "Who are you?" and "What are you?", but I don't know the difference between these two questions.

Please explain it to me.

  • Who is typically addressed to a person, and what to an object so as the other person stated it is odd, especially out of context. – P VV May 8 '18 at 23:13

Who are you?

This is typically asking for your name, but a particular context could indicate a different meaning.

What are you?

This question is very informal and bit odd. It is a very terse question which implies some understood context.

  • If you're in a business meeting it could be your role - e.g. "I'm the accountant"

  • If you discussing two sports teams it could mean "Which team are you a fan of?"

  • If you're in a group that has been discussing the nationality of different folks in the group then the question would be asking for your nationality.

  • If you're in a group of college students discussing what year of college you're in then the answer might be "I'm a freshman" or "I'm a sophomore."

So in general I'd say that the question is looking for a label for some kind of subgroup to which you belong.

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  • 1
    Who are you is requesting personal information about yourself ("My name is X, I am clerk, and I am 99 years old). What are you is requesting information about your place in a larger group (e.g. "What are you? I am a human.") – Anaksunaman Oct 26 '15 at 3:44
  • @Anaksunaman - I can't disagree with the first part. Your name you typically be the first thing wanted and then some other infomation depending on context. e.g "I'm Max, the plumber." Until I get to visit Quark on Ferenginar I can't image answering "I am a hewman." – MaxW Oct 26 '15 at 4:21
  • "Arthur Dent? ... Arthur Phillip Dent? ... You're a jerk. A complete kneebiter." - Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged. On topic, yes, you likely wouldn't say this to very many people. =P – Anaksunaman Oct 26 '15 at 4:53

What are you?

Here what is used to ask your occupation.

Who is used to ask only about name and background.

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