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As per the title, when asking 'What is your name?' or 'What is your job?', why is it 'は' not 'か'? For example, we are taught this:

おしごとは。
'What is your job?'

But I don't understand why it isn't this?

あなたはしごとですか。
'What is your job?'

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2 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

お仕事は? Oshigoto wa? is basically short for お仕事は何ですか? Oshigoto wa nan desu ka?

あなたは仕事ですか? Anata wa shigoto desu ka? means "Are you work?" and is nonsensical†.

wa (not わ BTW) is the topic marker.* Just asking 〜は basically means "About ~..." and only hints at the actual question. Leaving things unspoken is a very typical thing in Japanese. "About (your) work..." is the subtle, polite way to ask "What is your work?".

Simply 仕事か? Shigoto ka? would mean something like "Work, eh?" and is more of an exclamation than a question. It's also rather rough, at the very least not polite.


* That's why あなたは仕事ですか? Anata wa shigoto desu ka? marks "you" as the topic and is wrong. It's basically saying "About you, are you work?"

† In the context of this question at least, see comments.

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Just would like to add to this. Couldn't あなたは仕事ですか? also be interpreted as "Are you currently working/at work?" depending on the context. –  phirru Jun 6 '11 at 10:26
    
@phirru, may be there is some more sense of using "Are you going to work?" like in "私は買い物に行きますけど、あなたは仕事ですか?" –  YOU Jun 6 '11 at 10:33
    
That's the sort of usage I was thinking about. (Alhough the use of "あなた" itself is very rare in normal Japanese). Possibly could be used on the phone: 「(あなた、今)仕事ですか?」 –  phirru Jun 6 '11 at 10:41
    
Sure, "anata wa shigoto desu ka" can have any number of meanings, but certainly nothing useful in the context of the question. :) –  deceze Jun 6 '11 at 12:07
    
Thanks for the answer, actually makes sense once you read it out loud. On a side note, good to see a few SO users jumping on this exchange too. –  Chris Jun 6 '11 at 20:47
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It is more polite if you omit or not using straight form when asking personal things.

お しごと は 

means

お しごと は なんですか?

And following is not correct

あなた は しごと です か

which means "Are you a work?"

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