What is the diference between the folowing phrases? They are equivalent anyway. Since that only emphasis make difference (like phrase with auxiliary "do") and time they refer to. Although I have seen that natives usually use "What happened?" instead of "What has happened?" I'm wondering why? Moreover what is it "What happened?". The point is that it isn't a Perfect, Simple or any other construction. Maybe it's too obvious but still.

  1. What has happened?
  2. What happened?
  3. What did happend?
  • 3
    There's a typo in 3, it should be "What did happen?"
    – SteveES
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 16:36
  • 2
    #3 would usually only arise in some emphatic and/or negating context, such as You say he's lying about last night. So what did happen? The difference between #1 and #2 is the same as always - using Present Perfect (#1) is more appropriate when something that happened in the past is particularly relevant to time of utterance. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:03
  • @SteveES, I totally agree with you Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


Let's say someone calls computer support for the first time on a Monday, and reaches the internal support department at their company.

rrrrrringggg rrrringggg.

Hello, Desktop Support.
--Hi, this is Anthony in Accounting. I've got a problem with my PC. It just stopped working.
Anthony, call you tell me what happened?

Support wants to know what took place at the moment the PC stopped working.

Now let's say Anthony calls Desktop Support again on Tuesday, with a different problem. And he calls again on Wednesday and again on Thursday with yet other problems.

On Friday, he calls again. This time, Desktop Support, who have come to recognize Anthony as a regular caller, and a person who seems to have very bad luck with computers, might ask:

Hello, Anthony. What's happened now?

Meaning, what is this most recent trouble in a series of troubles that you're calling us about?

Or someone at a coffee shop might ask "Have you seen the news on TV??!!" to which you might reply,

Why, what's happened?

meaning, what is this breaking news I should know about?

The present perfect casts the action in some present light.


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