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“Why Do You Ask” vs. “Why Are You Asking”: Elaborating on the Differences

“Why Do You Ask” vs. “Why Are You Asking”: Elaborating on the Differences

English is such a vast and deep language, where we have multiple ways to say one thing. Both “why do you ask” and “why are you asking” are commonly used as a response when you don’t want to answer something directly. 

If you want to sound more neutral, I would recommend using “why do you ask.” If someone keeps pestering about the same thing whenever you meet them then “why do you ask” would be your perfect choice because “do” denotes present simple tense and present simple encompasses matters of routine life too.  

How is your grandfather doing?

Why do you ask about my grandfather every time we meet? 

Contrary to this, when “why are you asking” is concerned, it is used in more of a matter of fact way. You can use it as a direct reply when the other person asks you about something only once.

Were you home last night? 

Yes, why are you asking? 

This article will share the correct use of other related sentences that you can use in your everyday life. So, let’s jump into it…

Is “Why Do You Ask” Natural?

As you may know, “ask” is a verb that means “inquire.” “Why do you ask” is a present simple tense. In English, you ask questions in the present simple tense when someone does something habitually. 

Let’s say if a person goes out for fishing every weekend then it could be asked from that person “why do you go out for fishing on weekends?” The same is true for “why do you ask?”. Here let me tell you that we are not always dealing with daily or routine matters, sometimes we are concerned with mental state of next person.

You can use “present simple” instead of “present continuous” while expressing a mental state. 

Here are some examples;

  • Do you understand?
  • Do you recognize her?
  • Do you want to go out with me?

What Does “Why Are You Asking” mean? 

When should you use "why are you asking?" Is that rude?
“Why are you asking” sounds rude. Therefore, you should use it only when it’s appropriate.

When we add present participle i.e. “ing” at the end of a base verb, it changes the tense to present continuous from present simple or present indefinite. “Why are you asking” may also be used as a defense. When you find the other person rather suspicious and you don’t want to reveal what that person is asking then this question can be asked. The rule usually applies to current or one-time situations.  

When you’re not interested in telling the speaker a detailed answer, saying “why are you asking” will suggest that he shouldn’t ask the particular thing. 

I Was Asking VS. I Was Asked 

The voice in both sentences indicates whether the subject is performing an action or receiving the action

  • I was asking refers to when you’re asking something. Eg; I was asking my mother to have lunch with me. 
  • I was asked can be used when someone asks you about something. I was asked by my brother if I could eat out with him. 

Let’s break down the meaning of these sentences;

I was asking I was asked (by Rachel)
Voice Active voicePassive voice
SubjectI is doerRachel is doer
Voice of both sentences

What Should You Reply To “Can I Ask You Something?”

Best replies to "Can I Ask You Something?"
Best replies to “Can I Ask You Something?”

You’re probably looking for some polite replies to “Can I Ask You Something.”

  • Sure. Why not but I can’t promise you an answer.
  • Sure, go ahead.
  • Yes, you may.
  • Definitely, you can – but I don’t guarantee you an answer. 

If you’re comfortable answering something you could say

  • I prefer not to answer that.
  • I’d rather not discuss it.

Moreover, your silence is also some kind of reply when you don’t want to talk to someone. Though, it may seem rude. 

Which Is Correct – “Did I Ask You” VS. “Did I Asked You”

It’s worth noting that “did” requires a simple form of the verb with no “s” or “es”. Let me tell you that the same is the case with do and does. You should only use a simple verb when structuring a sentence with did. 

As per grammar rule, “did I asked you” is not correct. The verb did already indicates that the sentence is past and doesn’t require another past verb. However, you can remove “did” if you want to use “asked”. 

But it’ll turn the past interrogative tense into a past affirmative that will automatically change the meaning. Whereas,“Did I ask you” has no grammatical issues. 

Here’s the formula of past simple interrogative;

DidSubjectFirst form of verbObject
Formula of past simple interrogative

“Has Been Asked” Vs “Has Been Asking”?

Has been asking VS. Has Been Asked
There’s nothing wrong grammatically

Both the sentences fulfill grammar rules. The context and voice are, however, different. 

  • Has been asking is an active voice. It indicates an action that has commenced in the past and hasn’t ended yet. Here, the person is a doer.
  • On the other hand “has been asked” is showing an action that has started and ended already in the past. Also, it is identified as a passive voice and the person here is a listener while being on the receiving end of the action.

“To Ask A Few Questions To Someone” VS. “To Ask A Few Questions From Someone(Name)”

Both the prepositions, to and from, don’t fit in syntactically. The right preposition would be “of”. You can structure a sentence this way.

I would like to ask a few questions of Michael.

This sentence is very wordy. The natives don’t use this sentence structure, so I wouldn’t recommend using it as well. To sound more native, you could say “I would like to ask Micheal a few questions.” 

If you want to learn the use of the preposition ‘of’ in detail, you might find this video a helpful resource. 

Uses of preposition Of

Final Thoughts

At this point, it might be quite clear that “why do you ask” can be used in reply when someone keeps asking you something. Honestly, it doesn’t sound rude as you want to know why the other person is interested in knowing a particular thing. 

The sentence “Why are you asking,” on the hand, seems suspicious and rude. That is why it’s not commonly used. These are the little confusions that non-natives face. However, the English grammar rules are very simple and easy to understand. The only thing that helps you master a skill is consistency. Happy learning! 

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A web story that distinguishes the two can be found here.

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