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In my answer at ELL regarding a question of whether someone is working that evening, I suggested the alternative:

Do you work tonight?

There was a comment about this being incorrect usage, because "the present simple is used for actions or situations that occur regularly, or are always true:" "Do you smoke," "do you go to the movies," "do you like pie," etc.

I would agree with this, but in my experience adding a specific time to the verb "work" is clear, understandable, and common usage to mean "are you scheduled to work at [this time]." So:

Do you work [on] Sundays? [habitual... sort of]
Do you work [on, this] Sunday? [specific]

I grew up in the US Midwest and the East Coast, and I never thought that this usage would be strange or incorrect.

In what regions or countries would this usage be considered correct, and where would it be considered incorrect?

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4 Answers 4

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Do you work tonight? is perfectly good, at least in Californian American English:

Me: Do you work tonight?

You: No, I work Wednesdays. I have class tonight.

We use the simple present for future events that we understand to be planned or scheduled in some way — as if on a calendar, an appointment card, an airline ticket . . .

 

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Kate Bunting commented:

AFAIK in all regions of the UK it would be "Are you working tonight?"

I'd agree that in my experience (various parts of the UK, mainly the NW),

  • ??/*"Do you work tonight?" sounds most peculiar. While
  • "Do you work Thursdays" is idiomatic,
  • ??/*"Do you work Thursday?", for the semelfactive rather than the habitual, is again odd sounding.
  • "Will you be working on Thursday?" or
  • "Are you working this Thursday?" is what I'd expect.

................

However, the situation is far from simple. Certainly I'd not be at all surprised to hear the semelfactives

  • "Do you take your German exam / go to see your cousin in Wales this afternoon / on Thursday?"

The distinction is perhaps that these are typically fairly rare events, rather than single instances in a probably very regular timetabling (work). But as with "Do you go to the restaurant tonight?", these would only be used if there was an expectation that the addressee might well do, that they're planned for some unknown time in the near future.

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  • 1
    Yes, the simple present in "do you work?" strongly conveys the present habitual, meaning that its use with "tonight", a single point in time, is incongruous to the point of making one doubt the question's intent and/or the speaker's competence in English. "Are you working tonight?", by contrast, is present continuous used as implicit future and an extremely common idiomatic construct. Much more common than, for example, "Will you work tonight?" or "Will you be working tonight?". You might hear an English-speaker saying the latter but you'd wonder why they didn't ask "normally". Nov 14, 2021 at 17:12
  • I'm not quite clear what the distinction is against examples like "take an exam" if you reject my explanation.
    – Casey
    Dec 4, 2021 at 18:05
  • Is that addressed to me, Casey? I don't see how it fits. Is it on the right thread? // "Do you work tonight?" sounds unnatural full stop to my British ears, and apparently to fellow Brit Kate Bunting, though Tinfoil Hat says it's fine in California for the habitual sense. Obviously there's a regional difference. Dec 4, 2021 at 18:39
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    What I mean is, you offer a few sentences where you do feel it works, and then say that you think that they work because they're not events with very regular scheduling. If that is the case, then I do not see why you would reject my suggestion, which is that it is fine if the person being spoken to does not enjoy regular scheduling of their work, which is perhaps more common than we would wish.
    – Casey
    Dec 4, 2021 at 20:29
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    I'd go a bit further and say I find this answer persuasive in its claim that any verb at all works in this form in a suitable context.
    – Casey
    Dec 4, 2021 at 20:34
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I suspect that the issue here is not a regional variation at all but variance in the way the sentence is being interpreted. If we imagine that the person being asked works the same days and hours every week, then yes, it sounds a bit strange, because this form is not really used for events that happen the same time on a regular basis. If we imagine two people who work every Monday night, it would indeed be strange for one to ask the other, "do you work tonight?" But if the schedule is irregular or highly variable, it sounds fine. "No, I work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday this week but I have off tonight" might be a natural response.

Looking at the existing answers and comments, one is led to the conclusion that this is a British/American English distinction. I'm not so sure. This answer argues, to my thinking persuasively, that even examples that sound strange at first brush, such as "Wednesday we watch the movie" or "he likes it tomorrow," will work if we have a suitable context. The author would appear, by his reference to the "telly" and choice of Cameron for a politician, to most likely be British.

I would propose that perhaps this is more of a cultural than linguistic difference. In the United States, in some industries, "just-in-time" scheduling is common practice -- one does not work the same days on a regular schedule and finds out with relatively short notice which days one will work. An attempt to search found little reference to this practice in the UK. Is this practice uncommon there? It would certainly explain the difference in perception.

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  • "Do you work tonight?" sounds unnatural full stop to my British ears. "Are you working tonight?" or, for the habitual, "Do you [normally] work on Monday nights?" Dec 4, 2021 at 13:11
  • @EdwinAshworth Well, my intuitions are not a good guide for British English, but I couldn’t help but notice that most objections focused on the habitual nature of the question. Either way Id be surprised if there’s a US region where this way of speaking is not accepted.
    – Casey
    Dec 4, 2021 at 16:17
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“Do you work tonight?” and especially “Are you working [right now]?” are also used in the context of sex work, so it depends on context—who’s asking whom where.

The bot will soon make its request for detail and references.

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  • ... Phone numbers? Nov 16, 2021 at 12:43
  • They're used with any kind of work, not just sex work in particular.
    – Casey
    Dec 4, 2021 at 0:49

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