Here is a situation.

Your phone rings and you answer the phone. And middle of the talk, you realize you don't have much time left. So you feel like needing to come down to the point. So you ask your friend on the phone by using one of these expressions, "Why did you call me?" or "Why have you called me?".

Which question sentence is more proper and why? One is simple past tense and the other is present perfect tense. Thank you very much.

  • 2
    I'd say "why are you calling ?" because you are right in the middle of the conversation. – None Mar 14 '17 at 7:40
  • @Laura So neither of the suggested expressions can be used there? But, actually calling had started earlier than the conversation because dialing had been done earlier. Exactly how "calling" is defined here? The behavior of dialing and waiting for the conversation to start? Or does it include the whole package even including the whole conversation? – Smart Humanism Mar 14 '17 at 8:28
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    If you want to use past tense and present perfect, those are fine, but I think what Laure had been suggesting was that her phrase is the more idiomatic, commonly-used one. But that's just my own take of her comment :). I am not presuming to speak for her. – Teacher KSHuang Mar 14 '17 at 9:02
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    @TeacherKSHuang Aha, I have understood. Thanks. :) – Smart Humanism Mar 14 '17 at 10:04
  • "The behavior of dialing and waiting for the conversation to start" That's dialing, whereas calling evokes the notion of speaking. Waiting is doing nothing, by definition, so I wouldn't mention it. If you are unsure, though, you are right to say "to be calling" from picking up the phone to hanging up. – Hector von Mar 14 '17 at 18:30

The first meaning of the verb call is to use your voice to draw someone's attention. In relation to using the phone it can be used for the actual fact of dialling the number (and possibly not getting through...) as well as for the fact of having a conversation over the phone with someone whose number you have just dialled (you would not use it if you were on the receiving end).

In your example I personally think there are three possibilities.
If you want to refer to the actual fact of dialling the number then of course the choice has to refer to the past, by way of either using the past or the present perfect. I would use the present perfect because it is the tense that links a past action to the present, and the telephone call is still ongoing. But there might be local usages (US I think, but I'm not an expert on US English) that would tolerate the past.

I would use the present V-ing form because I consider that the act of calling covers the act of dialling the number + the act of talking to the recipient. Moreover in your particular example where you want the caller to come quickly to the point, using the present V-ing helps bring the caller back into the urgency of the action. So, I'd say :

Why are you calling?

  • 1
    A perfect answer I have never seen before. Thank you for the kind, best answer, the perfect Laure. – Smart Humanism Mar 14 '17 at 10:02
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    @SmartHumanism, I would have said: A more perfect answer I have never seen (before). It's the "more" that makes this answer the most perfect answer that you have ever seen. – Teacher KSHuang Mar 14 '17 at 10:08
  • @TeacherKSHuang: I was taught perfect had no comparative form. Either something is complete or not. If you want to compare, better use better. A better comment would be more modest. (I'm doing it myself you see, I have actual reason to complain). – Hector von Mar 14 '17 at 18:35
  • @Hectorvon, sorry, I should have been more clear. I had been commenting on the idiom itself, which is "a more perfect (noun)." But yes, of course, you're right: Semantically, what could be more perfect than perfection itself :). – Teacher KSHuang Mar 15 '17 at 8:03

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