461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

An episode about the tricky little questions that we use when socialising. What are the appropriate answers? What are the subtle differences? How do native speakers use these questions? Can you take the test and get all the right responses to my list of deceptively difficult questions?

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25 Deceptively Difficult Questions – Proper Introduction Transcript!

Hi everyone,

This is an episode about social English, the kind of English you use when you’re socialising, particularly the little things you say when you greet someone or at the beginning of a conversation.

There are many ways to say “hi” and also lots of ways to say “how are you?” or “what are you doing?” The tricky thing is being able to judge the subtle differences in the questions with the presence of auxiliary verbs or modals which change the meaning slightly from the past, to the present to the future or with slightly different levels of formality.

I’d like to do a test in this episode today. I am going to test you, so get ready.

A Test

Here’s what’s going to happen.

I’ve prepared a list of 25 questions. I’m going to read them to you in a moment.

As I say each question, what I want you to do is to think really quickly and really naturally about the first thing you would normally say when you hear that question. What’s the first answer that comes into your mind?

Let’s see if you answer correctly.

To find out the proper answers we’re going to listen to me directing those questions at Amber, Paul and Sarah. Then you can listen out for how they answer them and the comments we make afterwards, which should explain these tricky little bits of English.

Not only can you learn some essential social English in this episode, you can also hear plenty of humorous conversation between the four of us.

Sarah’s baby is also there in the background. I’m sorry if this bothers anyone. I’ve removed some of those noises but a few are still there. I think it sounds fine and adds a bit of atmosphere and after all she is a very cute baby.

So, the test. Let’s get started.

Are you ready? Just give the first answer that comes to mind.

Also, you should know that some of the questions are intentionally incorrect. So, if you hear a question which is grammatically wrong or just not used ever, you can say “wrong”.

Ok, so, your quick answer to the question, or “wrong” if it’s incorrect.

I’ll say the question once quickly, once slowly and once again quickly.

Some of these questions may seem extremely simple – the point of this is the pragmatics of social English and how you should give certain stock answers to some questions. They get a bit harder as they go along.

Also, you can try to repeat the questions too.

They’re going to come pretty quick, so use the pause button if you want.

Here we go. You might think these are easy, but that’s why this is called ‘deceptively’ difficult questions.

*4 questions are intentionally incorrect. Can you spot them?

  1. What are you doing?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How’s it going?
  4. How are you going?
  5. What’s happening?
  6. What’s going on?
  7. What’s going down?
  8. What’s going up?
  9. What’s up?
  10. How do you do?
  11. How are you?
  12. How have you been?
  13. How have you been up to?
  14. What are you up to?
  15. What have you been up to?
  16. How long has it been?
  17. Can I use your phone?
  18. I can’t use your phone, can I?
  19. Do you mind if I open the window?
  20. You don’t mind if I open the window, do you?
  21. What are your plans for later?
  22. What are you up to later?
  23. Can you tell me where is the best bar in town?
  24. Do you know how long is it going to be?
  25. Would you be prepared to give me a 5% discount?

Ta = thanks

You’re now going to hear all those questions and how Amber, Paul and Sarah will respond to them. See if you got them right or wrong!

I’ll go through them again quickly at the end.

Listen to the whole episode for all the correct answers and explanations.

Don’t be a ninja! Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.



  • ptholome/Antonio

    The Russian Joke: youtu.be/MhR1Akni24Q

  • ptholome/Antonio

    in this episode from min 41:02 to 41:31) it is the same than from 39:14 to 39:40

    • Yep, I thought it was important for your English to hear that particular section several times.

      ;) Not really, it’s just a technical error and I have no idea why it happened. Sorry!

      • ptholome/Antonio

        Funny. :)

  • ptholome/Antonio

    You said a sentence in this episode which make me react: “The world would be a better place that it already is”

    We, people living in rich countries think that the world is a good place and could be better, Our world is a good place, but for hundread of millions of people the world is a hell.

  • ptholome/Antonio

    Hi, Luke, I think you must put the link oif the Russian Joke each time you speak about it on the episode. Because there is always a Russian person saying: Sorry, I didn’t understand it.

    I laugh a lot each time this happens and much more when paul and Amber speak about it while you try to convince them that your joke was good. However it is becoming a greater joke each time someone say: Sorry, could you explain again? Hilarious, really.

  • Roman Kadyrov

    Hi Luke! It is Roman from Russia.Not so long I have been started to listen your podcasts one by onefron the begining. Now I have staid on the 18th episode. But yesterday I occasionally listened this 461st episode and it is not quiter clear your jokes about Russian but I want to get it. Could you release seperated series about Russian , their accent and other things which you see funny and interesting? It could be very apreciated if you send me feedback. Also would you prepare part about articles the and a? Th))

    • Plast

      Hi Roman. It’s a bit difficult to get this joke))): Russians are always rushing) The same pronunciation of this two words. Here is The link with Luke’s explanation.

      • ptholome/Antonio

        That’s the funny thing. There is always a Russian people saying: Sorry I didn’t understand the joke.

        That’s the pun of this joke. :)

        I laugh a lot each time this happens.

  • Shao Ku Tien

    Dear Luke,

    I am from ROC(Taiwan) and I agree that this is actually a problem between Taiwan and China, not yours.
    However, I believe it will be beneficial for you to investigate into this issue. You don’t have to take a side, but you can figure it out in your mind if ROC(Taiwan) is a country.
    Take some basic examples. The necessary elements of being a country include land, people, a government(president), recognition of other countries. ROC(Taiwan) has them all! Worrying about recognition of other countries? ROC(Taiwan) has 20 countries with diplomatic relation, which means at least we are recognized by some countries in the world as an independent country.
    So by worldwide definition of being a country, ROC(Taiwan) is a country, no matter if China or the US or other country disagree or not. They don’t recognize the fact is simply because many countries cannot disobey China.
    And why am I typing ROC(Taiwan)? Because ROC is the official name of Taiwan. Taiwan is only the name of this land. So, Taiwan is not an independent country, because it is ROC, Republic of China, the name of our country, stands as an independent country.

    • ptholome/Antonio

      Thank you for your explanation.

  • Rahul Shagrithaya

    What about ‘What has become of you’?

    • Sounds like old fashioned English, and it means “What have you become?” meaning “You’ve changed.”

  • Would you rather living with the Russian joke chasing you all your life or the Taiwan being a country issue? xD

    LOL you said: “if you think i’m apologizing too much then I’m sorry” that is so hilarious.

    I remember the Whats up from a movie, “scary movie 2”.

    How couldn’t you know the “it’s going down for real” song D: ? I’ve learnt a lot like “I’m here for the crack” xD

  • Sergei

    Thank you,Luke, for the episodes.
    Are there any chances you will return to everyday-phrasal-verb project in the near future?

    • I’ve recently moved the phrasal verb episodes to a new host and so I’m working on a way to introduce a small fee to access the back catalogue, then I’ll be able to continue doing it.

  • Agnes