I've been told that it is okay to say "What can I do you for?" instead of "What can I do for you?" and in fact I myself have heard people say that many times.

So, if it's correct, would "you" be a direct object in that case or still indirect like in "What can I do for you?"

By the way, if it's not a big trouble for you, please, tell me if my punctuation in the end of the title is correct.

3 Answers 3


In my experience "What can I do you for" is a joke that became a catch-phrase and entered some people's everyday vocabulary. It stands for "what can I do for you".

The literal meaning is about "doing (someone) for (something)", which in British usage means prosecuting them at law. "He got done for dangerous driving". In this literal phrase, yes "you" would be the direct object.

"What can I do for you" is of course a common phrase offering a service, and "you" is at best an indirect object, probably only an adjunct.

Note: the previous discussion, that Peter of the Corn linked to, refers to a number of different colloquial meanings of "do someone"; but it seems to me that most of them are not relevant, because they are "do someone", not "do someone for something".


You is a direct object in what can I do you for?, where do is the action directly performed on you. See this answer which clarifies the meaning of the do you in what can I do you for?

And the question mark and quotation thing should be changed to ...in "What can I do you for"?

  • I see. Thank you. "...should be changed to ...in "What can I do you for"?" - So in this case it would make no difference from a case, in which I would be asking not about a question, but about a clause (like in "What I can do you for is the following set of actions: ..."), right?
    – brilliant
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 5:34
  • There is something unclear... If the action is performed ON you, then it's not a direct object. And if Robusto is right, saying that it's an inversion of "what can I do for you", then it's definitely not a direct object. The "What" part indicates that, because "you do What for someone", right?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 8:21
  • @Alenanno - Well, what you have just described - this very "unclearity" - was in fact what caused me to ask this question.
    – brilliant
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 9:41

"What can I do for you?" is a more common, standard, acceptable and grammatically correct question compared to "What can I do you for?" Therefore it is preferable to use the former. And the punctuation you used in the title is okay.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.