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Was arbeitest du?

I came across this in a udemy course I am doing but the explanation is unclear. Does it mean ‘what do you work at?’ or ‘what are you working on?’, or something else?

  • What is a udemy course? And what was the explanation? – user unknown Nov 16 '16 at 22:22
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    @userunknown That's online courses for various things, including languages. – PerlDuck Nov 17 '16 at 12:43
  • @user unknown: It was left unexplained actually - inplied the translation was 'what do you work as?' though. Udemy.com has some free German courses to try out. Quality is mixed but these ones are overall quite good. – hinterbu Nov 18 '16 at 15:04
  • So the explanation was not unclear, but didn't exist? You should correct your question, then. If possible (no registration requiered), you can add a link. – user unknown Nov 18 '16 at 19:49
  • No the question stands as it is and has been answered. – hinterbu Nov 19 '16 at 18:30
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Was arbeitest du?

This can mean a number of things:

  • What, you’re working? (although that would typically include a comma between was and arbeitest)

  • What are you working (on)?

  • What do you work as? (asking for a profession/job)

In my opinion, the third interpretation is most likely, however, I would have no problems using the second interpretation given appropriate context. Typically, though, if you are asking what somebody is working on, the question would be:

Woran arbeitest du?

I am unfamiliar with an English expression to work at something hence I cannot tell you how that would be translated.

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In addition to the great accepted answer:

In Germany, it's usually the third one "What is your job?", but don't remember that one tooooo well: It's basically a German "Watcha workin as?". Yes, people talk like that, but you may not want to learn it FIRST, when new to the language. ;)

Better are "Was ist dein Beruf?" or actually "Was ist dein Job?". While "Job" CAN sound negative in some special contexts (just like in English), Germans adopted the word completely.

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Depending on context I'd suggest

What do you do for a living?

which means What is your profession? or What is your job?

  • Trump wird bald als Präsident arbeiten, für 1$ pro Jahr, wie man hört.Allgemein sind ehrenamtliche Jobs nicht selten oder Arbeit in der Freizeit (Hausbau, Renovierung, Gärtnern, Hausarbeit, ...). – user unknown Nov 16 '16 at 22:21

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