I overheard my manager asking "What are you up to?"

What does that idiom mean? Is it an informal/negative way of asking??

  • 1
    It's just an informal way of asking "What are you doing right now". See esl.about.com/library/lessons/blphrasalbuild.htm
    – Gaurav
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 4:22
  • 5
    An excellent example of a sentence that's awkward to not end with a preposition: "up to what are you?"
    – Seamus
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 10:15
  • @Seamus: True, but it's not like you'd be using this construction in a formal setting. Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 16:10
  • 1
    @BenLee The rules of grammar Yoda does not adhere to.
    – Seamus
    Commented Mar 31, 2012 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Seamus: I would phrase it "To what are you up," which is still very awkward. Commented Apr 21, 2012 at 14:56

5 Answers 5


"What are you up to?" means

"What have you been doing lately?".

If you add an adverb to the end of the phrase, for instance,

"What are you up to tonight?" or "What are you up to this summer?"

it can be interpreted as

"What are you planning to do tonight?" or "What are you planning to do this summer?".

  • 1
    Hope you don't mind the edit. Makes things just slightly clearer in my view, good answer otherwise.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 14:26
  • @Noldorin: No problem. Thanks for improving my answer. Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 14:36
  • Can also mean "What's your scheme?" as when the boss comes in after hours to find you hauling cement bags into the office.
    – moioci
    Commented Sep 18, 2010 at 4:55
  • There is no definition of "be up to" on Merriam-Webster site. Is it not used in American English? I found it only in Cambridge dictionary.
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:41

Can I also add that the intention should be determined by the tone the person uses when asking. If they are asking it in a light hearted open way, they genuinely want to know what you are doing (at the moment or a later point in time).

If there appears to be suspicion in their tone, they may be implying that you are "up to" something you shouldn't be and should stop.

A common phrase is "are you up to mischief?” which means "are doing something naughty, you shouldn't be"?

  • 1
    I think this distinction is important and salient and I'm really surprised the checkmark went to answer that didn't even mention this.
    – Ben Lee
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 18:53
  • +1 for first two paragraphs, but no one ever says "are you up to mischief?"
    – endolith
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 19:13

"What are you up to?"

                = "What do you intend to do?" 

                = "What are you willing to do?"

And about it being formal or not, as far as I know, it is more friendly than formal.


It means, 'What are you doing?' and is similar to the phrase, 'He's up to something'. Yes, it is generally informal.

  • 6
    I'd add that if you say that someone is "up to something", it generally insinuates that they're "up to no good", or some kind of mischief...
    – Benjol
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 5:10
  • 3
    Indeed, "What are you up to?" might have this sense - it depends on the tone. But without the emphasis, I don't think there will usually be any negative connotation.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 16:34

Another example of a phrasal verb -- see Why do we use 'up' as adverbs for verbs? for more information.

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