Is there a context in which it is correct/standard to use the expression "Who you are?" as a question? or is "Who are you?" the only possible correct form?

Googling "Who you are?" doesn't help because almost all the hits relate to a song called "Who you are" (where the phrase is not being used as a question). And for those hits that aren't about the song, their occurrences of "who you are" are invariably relative clauses. It doesn't seem like you can search for exact strings containing punctuation like the question mark on Google (see here). As such, I find this question hard to research.

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    "Who you are?", presented as a stand-alone question, would identify the speaker as an E2Ler.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:17
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    American or British or Australian or South African or Kiwi, it doesn't matter, no native speaker asks "Who you are?" in place of "Who are you?".
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:17
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    "Who are you?" is a question, "who you are" an affirmation (e.g. "I don't know who you are". They do not mean the same thing. However you can use it like this in "Can you tell me who you are?" Then it is not a standalone sentence.
    – MorganFR
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:18
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    "Who you are?" can not be used as a standalone sentence - it can only form part of a larger sentence, such as "They want to know who you are". It could appear with a question mark, such as "Why don't you tell them who you are?" Aug 3, 2016 at 13:19
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    I think many commentators are overlooking the fact that in African American Vernacular "Who you are?" is acceptable. But that's about the only place. For more on this vernacular, see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_Vernacular_English
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:21

3 Answers 3


Who are you? is the stock phrase for asking a stranger to identify themselves. They would normally respond with their name. Note that this can carry a connotation of "I don't think you should be here;" a more polite approach is to introduce yourself ("Hello, I'm [your name]"), which carries an implied "and what's your name?" without any negative connotations.

Who you are? cannot stand alone as a sentence in Standard [American] English, but it can be used as part of a larger request, "Tell me who you are," for instance. This is an invitation for a new acquaintance to talk about themselves. They would not normally respond with their name, but with a brief life history, career, that sort of thing. It's a little unusual; "Tell me about yourself" is maybe more common.


The only context I can think of is as a response to someone prompting something like "guess what she asked me".


Who you are? may be an acceptable variant of Who are you? in African American Vernacular English or an offshoot thereof.

African American Vernacular English is defined by Wikipedia as:

"a variety (dialect, ethnolect and sociolect) of American English, most commonly spoken today by urban working-class and largely bi-dialectal middle-class African Americans."

Among many other idiosyncrasies, this vernacular allows altered syntax in questions. Wikipedia gives the following examples:

Altered syntax in questions: Why they ain't growing? ('Why aren't they growing?') and Who the hell she think she is? ('Who the hell does she think she is?')

Notice that in "Why they ain't growing?" the direct object pronoun they comes before the copula ain't. This is very similar to what's happening in "Who you are?"

Another idiosyncracy in this vernacular is the use of the copula be in non-standard ways. For example, the copula often occurs uninflected, or inflected for the wrong number, or even dropped. For example, in "He be crazy", the copula is uninflected; in "They is crazy", the subject is plural but the copula is singular; in "He crazy", the copula is dropped entirely.

While it may be that the more common vernacular variant of "Who are you?" is "Who you be?" or "Who you is?" or even "Who you?", I believe that I have heard "Who you are?" before, and I can easily imagine someone who speaks the vernacular uttering it. I will try to find some data corroborating this, but the difficulty in finding such data suggests that the be and is variants are far more common than the are variant.

As a final caveat, I advise English Language Learners (as well as native English speakers who have not grown up with this vernacular) not to try to imitate it. It can be considered offensive, as evinced by this passage:

Just as it is offensive for people to don bindis, kimonos or Native American headdresses without belonging to those respective cultures, it is offensive... to mimic African-American dialect in order to sound “cooler”.

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    This is all correct, but it should be pointed out that in normal usage "Who you are?" is a mistake. I say this because many people new to English get this wrong, and it's not going to help them if they think "Who you are?" is an acceptable alternative in everyday use. Aug 3, 2016 at 13:34
  • @DJClayworth, you're right. I'll add a note advising English learners not to try to imitate this vernacular.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:35
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    @user1359, I acknowledge the existence of "who you?" in my answer. There are also cases of the known variants "who you is?" and "who you be?" which I linked to. I explicitly start my answer by saying that "who you are?" may be acceptable in AAVE. (Or perhaps a little-documented subvernacular.)
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 3, 2016 at 17:17
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    @Silenus this doesn't seem like an answer with strong evidence, but rather more speculation. I linked my article because it spells out the AAVE rules as described by linguists. AAVE Habitual "be" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitual_be is a different verb case from the regular English simple present, and has a different meaning-- "who you be?" is not the same case or meaning as "who are you?"
    – user1359
    Aug 3, 2016 at 17:41
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    This might be a regional vernacular/dialect vs. African American.
    – MikeP
    Aug 3, 2016 at 21:10

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