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1994年,理查德得了心脏病,当时医生说他剩下的时间可能不多了。那时,他开始思考自己的人生,“我该怎么办? 我该做什么?”

This is from the Standard Book of HSK5, section 21.

I am in this point:

我(I)该(should)怎么(what)办(do)? 我(I)该(should)做(do)什么(what)?

So what is the difference between 怎么办 vs 做什么?

6 Answers 6

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我该(I should) 怎么(how to) 办(deal with/ handle) = How should I deal with it

You are facing a situation where you don't know [how] to handle

我该(I should) 做(do) 什么(what)? = What should I do

You are facing a situation where you don't know [what] can you do about it

Edit 2:

Comment:

Can you give an example of something that answers question 1 but not question 2

该怎么办 - stress problematic situations

  • 找不到工作该怎么办? (O) a problem needed to deal with

  • 找不到工作该做什么? (X) sounds like playing video games all day is an option

该做什么 - stress uncertain situations

  • 第一天上班,该做什么? (O) Just don't know what to do

  • 第一天上班,该怎么办? (X) sounds like 上班 is a problem for you

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  • I don't see much difference. Can you give an example of something answers question 1 but not question 2, or the other way? 给出一个回答,只能回答其中一个问题,而不是都可以。如果这样的回答不存在,那么这两个问题就是一样的。
    – 王博龙
    Sep 22, 2023 at 2:19
  • 1
    See my edition.
    – Tang Ho
    Sep 22, 2023 at 2:44
  • Oppsss... sorry, I mistakenly "edited" your Edition. Please restore it. TQ. Sep 22, 2023 at 2:52
  • Your first example is a very good illustration of the problem since both work quite well, but mean very different things: 找不到工作该怎么办? means, “What should I do about it if I can’t find work?”; that is, “If I can’t find work, that’s a problem – what should I do to solve that problem [and pay my bills]?”. Conversely, 找不到工作该做什么? means, “If I can’t find any work [to fill my time], what should I do instead of working?”. Sep 22, 2023 at 9:48
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In my view, 我该怎么办 is used when you have multiple choices of action to take, and is in a dilemma as to which is the most appropriate.

我该做什么 is used when you want to know whether it is appropriate to take any action at all.

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我该怎么办 = "I couldn't believe it" 我该做什么 = "What should I do"

I'm Chinese.

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  • 1
    Please explain how 我该怎么办 would mean "I couldn't believe it" (我簡直不敢相信) . Being Chinese doesn't make your argument stronger.
    – Tang Ho
    Sep 22, 2023 at 9:26
  • Quote:- "Please explain how 我该怎么办 would mean "I couldn't believe it" I think he meant a situation where you won a million dollar lottery, and am so overwhelmed as couldn't believe whether it is true or not, and so 我该怎么办, "what do I do now?" Sep 22, 2023 at 10:21
  • "I couldn't believe it, what should I do?" are two phrases. Same as "I lost my job, what should I do?" are two phrases
    – Tang Ho
    Sep 22, 2023 at 10:44
  • Yes, it is of course wrong to say "我该怎么办 = "I couldn't believe it" As I said, 我该怎么办!!! is meant, in this context, to be an exclamatory / rhetorical phrase after the happening of an unusual / unexpected situation. I've actually heard people using 我该怎么办!!!! in this particular context. It is of course not mainstream usage. He should have given a better, more complete answer. Sep 22, 2023 at 11:37
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I don't think there is a clear and unequivocal difference between 怎么办 and 做什么。Like everything, it will depend on the context. Nor will 该 or 应该 always appear in the translation as 'should'.

关于应该怎么办我们各执己见。
We couldn't agree what to do.

没有他我该怎么办?
What am I going to do without him?

然后我们就知道该做什么了!
Then we'll know just what to do!

If I call you I may ask:

你在做什么? What are you doing?

But I don't think I would ask, it doesn't make sense:

*你在怎么办?

On the other hand, this is acceptable:

你会怎么办?
What will you do?

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If you try to translate verbatim, word by word, it's highly likely that you will not be able to capture their meanings or differences.

In the context of this sentence, they represents the same thing.

我该怎么办? How can I make my rest of life?

我该做什么? What can I do in my rest of life?

They are just different ways to express desperation when Richard knew that there was no time left to him because of the cancer.

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Generally, 怎么办 is on a more abstract level and 做什么 is about more concrete actions.

In the context of the OP, 怎么办 maybe: 1. ignore the heart disease; 2. take a more leisure lifestyle and monitor the heart disease regularly; etc.

做什么 maybe: 1. Quit the 996 job and look for lower paying but more leisurely work; 2. Quit the 996 job, selling everything and move to the countryside; etc.

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