In English, I often hear something like "......love who you are", or ".......love what you are". Maybe this is more of a comprehending excercise more than anything else, but can someone help me the similiarities and differences of the 2 phrases: "who you are" and "what you are"?

And is there a difference in meaning between:

Our past experiences shape "who/what" we are today.

Thanks in advance


It is a subtle distinction. “Who” refers to a person where “What” refers to things.

Take the phrase “What I’ve become is not who I am”.

“What I’ve become” refers to the manifestation of self and “who I am is the subjective self.

I’m sure there are better answers but I thought I’d give this one a try.
They amount to the same thing. Iago and Popeye: "I am what I am." "Who" is more personal - we're saying, "I am a person!"

I recall John McCain (who was tortured) arguing against the US torture policy.
Some in favor of torture were saying, "But these are people who did X, Y, and Z."
John replied, "It's not about who they are; it's about who we are."

You could argue that "who we are" has more to do with our identity, and the circumstances we find ourselves in - that "what we are" is the stuff underneath all that.

Someone else could argue the other way around. Still another will say we're a product of our circumstances.

The way you reply might depend on who is asking the question.

OR, someone asks you, "Tell me about yourself. Tell me who you are."

A month later someone else asks you, "Tell me about yourself. Tell me what your are." You might give them both the same speech.
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Hi Raen

"Our past experiences shape who we are today."
"Our past experiences shape what we are today."
As stand-alone sentences, I don't think people would sense any significant difference in meaning between the two. However, the broader context might make the use of 'who' more appropriate than 'what', or vice versa.

Maybe the easiest way to understand the difference would be to think about the possible ways each of these questions could be answered:

1. Who are you?
2. What are you?

If you do that, I think you will see that the possible answers will range from similar to quite different. I've written some answers below. Which answers do you think would fit Question 1? Which fit Question 2? Which (if any) do you think could possibly be an appropriate answer for both questions?

a. I'm John.
b. I'm your worst nightmare.
c. I'm the devil.
d. I'm a long-lost friend.
e. I'm John's brother.
f. I'm a plumber.
g. I'm the plumber.
h. I'm successful.
i. I'm a failure.
j. I'm a PhD.
Thanks Ugan and Avangi.

So it seems these 2 phrase are used interchangably, because they basically "amount to the same thing", right? I want to make sure there isn't a distinct difference I should pay attention to. Here is a working sentence (that's not new in any sense, by the way),

"......every single past experience contributes to who/what we are today."

What would you prefer to use, what or who? Or in this very case, it wouldn't make any difference. Thanks again.Emotion: smile

Please read my post too, Raen. Emotion: wink
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Lol, Yankee. It must have been that we were posting at the same time. I would not have missed the very informative reply of yours, Emotion: smile Thank you so much!