Please help me figure out this two expressions:

"What do you expect to know?" and "What are you expected to know?"

2 Answers 2


What do you expect to know?

"What knowledge do you, personally, expect that you will have?" This is an unusual question because normally people don't "expect" to know something; they either know it or they don't. There are some legitimate uses of it, though; someone might ask this of a friend who's about to go to a pub quiz, for example, to ask which questions they think they might have the answers to.

What are you expected to know?

"What knowledge does an external entity (person, group etc.) who is not you expect that you will have?" Possible usage includes someone asking another about an impending job interview, if they want to know what knowledge the recruiter/interviewer will be expecting the interviewee to possess.

  • Yes, I just found a random verb to be filled in and didn't mind about the whole meaning. I understood your point, but to be more certain maybe I should need you to answer one more question, so if say "I'm expected to come to the meeting", does it means "people expect me to come"?
    – gnoulv
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 19:59
  • That's exactly right. You're saying that at least one person who isn't you expects that you'll be at the meeting. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 20:00

The difference is simply that What do you expect to know? poses a question in the "active" voice (for which the answer might be I expect to know X).

By contrast, What are you expected to know? is "passive" (a typical answer being I am expected to know X).

To clarify, in the first ("active") version, the explicitly-stated grammatical subject of the verb expect is you. You're being asked what you expect to know.

In the second ("passive") version, the grammatical subject isn't explicitly stated. You're being asked what someone else (your teacher, for example) expects you to know.

  • I don't normally disagree with your answers FumbleFingers, but in this case I think you're wrong: the first one is asking about the expectations of the person being asked, while the second is asking about the expectations of someone who is not that person. The difference is greater than passive vs active. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 19:40
  • To illustrate my point, let's take an active sentence "I made a mistake" and convert it to passive: "A mistake was made by me." In both cases, a mistake was made, and I was the one who made it. However, in the example given, I could say "I expected to know the answer to question 5." and "I was expected to know the answers to questions 8 and 9." Both are perfectly valid, but one is not a passive version of the active other. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 19:43
  • @John: I got called away before completing this answer, and your comments make it pretty obvious that the bit I never got around to writing is definitely necessary. I maintain that the active/passive distinction is central to the issue. Taking account of X being the actual information sought by the questioner as set out in my first two sentences, the only meaningful difference is whether the subject for the verb expect is the person being asked (the "active" version), or some unspecified other people (the "passive" version). Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 22:03
  • That's fair enough, actually. Given that, is there anything in my answer you think is incorrect? Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 22:07
  • @John: There's nothing wrong with your answer so far as I can see. Of course, OP has made things a little awkward by choosing to go with the verb know here, which as you correctly point out makes for a rather "unusual" question in the first version (a distracting irrelevancy that wouldn't apply with, say, do). I'm guessing from OP's comment (and possibly, his upvote), that the question was posed more in the spirit of “gimme da codez” than What syntactic distinction applies here, and [how] does it affect the meaning? Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 22:21

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