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What's your father?

Some said this question even exist in the visa-applying of USA, but I just couldn't understand it. Is it asking about somebody's father's job, his personality, or just what he is? If you take this question literally, the only answer can be "He's a pig, or blah, blah". So is it correct to ask this way?

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You're likely thinking of "What's your Father do?" which is normal and means his job. If you said "What's your Father?" it sounds like you are a non-English speaker, it's like "broken English" you know? You could get away with it in an ongoing conversation - "My Father's a doctor, what's yours?" or "My Father is catholic, what's your Father?" Even that sounds a bit weird. –  Joe Blow Jun 19 '11 at 7:18
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Fair enough, that's what I thought, but you know what, it is written in the textbook for Chinese pupils which means they learnt it from primary school, also doomed to sound non-English speaker, sad, huh? –  Daisy Jun 19 '11 at 7:54
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@Daiys Ni-Hao Daisy! I can definitely tell you it is wrong, they should change the text book slightly, adding "do". I have worked professionally with English (my native tongue) on all continents for decades (you wouldn't think so, but it's true! :) ) So I can assure you it is a mistake, they should add the "do" at the end. –  Joe Blow Jun 19 '11 at 9:25
    
It's hard to change that, I was taught that way and sadly for my son, it is still the same. Good thing is we have internet now and one can always get help from kind person like you, thank you so much, it meant a lot to me. –  Daisy Jun 19 '11 at 9:46
    
I have just joined the site for the particular reason to prove to my son's English teachers they are wrong when say "what is your father". It sounds really meaningless and obnoxious to me though I am not a native speaker. I told the guys at his school and I was then obscured. I found the answer I need, thanks. –  user32635 Dec 22 '12 at 12:23
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Coming from a midwest American English dialect, I can honestly say if someone asked me that question, I'd respond "huh?". It makes very little sense to me, even if it is acceptable grammar.

Better phrases would be:

  • What does your father do (for a living / for work)?
  • What line of work is your father in?

If I had to take it literally, I suppose I would interpret to mean any one of the following things (in order of confidence):

  • Ethnicity / Race
  • What my father is like (as in, good-natured vs. horrible, etc.)
  • What my father does (work)
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Since this is the English language site, I feel obliged to point out that "grammar" is misspelled above. Unfortunately, StackExchange won't let me make such a terse correction, so I have to make a bigger deal out of it by commenting. :/ –  kojiro Jun 19 '11 at 14:14
    
Yes, I wish SE would allow shorter changes like that; thanks for catching it, though. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 19 '11 at 18:29
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Well, when the conversation is already about a mode of being, e.g. "I'm a doctor, you're a lawyer", then it makes sense to use the abbreviated question "What's your father?", but without the context, there would be no particular reason to associate the question with job status, or anything else that one can be.

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How about "he's a human being"? –  TimLymington Jun 19 '11 at 22:49
    
@TimLymington: That would be an odd answer, because the questioner already knows that. –  Marcin Jun 20 '11 at 7:12
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protected by RegDwigнt Dec 22 '12 at 13:35

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