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The photocopier broke down yesterday, but now it's OK.

a) It is working again. It has been repaired.

b) It works again. It has been repaired.

What is the difference in meaning between those two ways of saying. I'm interested in all the subtleties.

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  • 4
    I notice that you have asked five questions in the past two hours, which seems like a lot to me. Can you please expand on your questions to include some more description of what independent research you have done to answer the questions? Remember, showing your research and giving context is not optional on ELL.
    – Matt
    Nov 20 '13 at 16:50
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    @Matt: I've started asking questions again two days ago. But before that I had not asked one in 4 months. Overall there are not many questions a year. What about research -- it is impossible since I'm interested in subtleties which only a native speaker can explain. My concern is not main points to which I can find answers in any grammar textbook.
    – Graduate
    Nov 20 '13 at 17:02
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    @Graduate: We've had discussions on meta (and also here) where the community have expressed concern that asking lots of questions quickly - especially when each has little more than a sentence of context - is not conducive to this site's goal of having high quality questions and answers. This is why I was asking you to add more context to your questions.
    – Matt
    Nov 20 '13 at 17:20
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This is intuition and not based on something I have read.

  1. In fact these sentences are quite similar and native speakers could and would use them both to describe a photocopier that wasn't working yesterday and is working today.

  2. Using the verb "works" (in the sense of "functions," not in the sense of "labors") I would be more likely to use the progressive for something that isn't in a state of "not-working" for too long.

e.g. My typewriter from high school still works! The photocopier is working again! At long last, democracy works again! Is the drink machine working? (I want to buy a Coke right now.) Does the drink machine work? (I've never seen anyone use it, it just sits there, is it even functional?)

But again these distinctions are quite subtle and other native speakers may disagree with me.

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“It works”, applied to any inanimate object is probably the more common expression for the basic meaning, that the device is able to function (not broken).

“It is working” is probably meant to imply something in addition to the basic meaning. If the speaker stresses the “is”, that would make it certain that they are implying something more. For example, the speaker might mean:

  1. It is being used right now, the photocopier is currently making a copy.
  2. The speaker is surprised that it is functional.
  3. It is functional now, but it wasn’t before.
  4. It is functional now, but it might break again.

Addition of an exclamation point or expletive would confirm surprise. A speaker might stress the “ing”, to clarify that the object is not just able to work, but is functioning at the current moment.

Of course, if the subject is a person rather than a device or tool then the meaning is completely different, “he works” meaning that he labors, is employed, has a job, and “he is working” meaning that he is doing one of those things at this particular time.

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I just want to add that those two formulations imply slightly different expectations (on the speaker's part) for the future status of the photocopier.

If I hear:

It works again.

I assume that the speaker believes that the photocopier will continue to function as a normal state of affairs.

Whereas if I hear:

It is working again.

I interpret it as:

It is [currently] working again.

That is, the present progressive emphasizes that this is the situation right now, as opposed to simple present. When I hear the latter, it makes me think that the speaker wants to imply that the photocopier may or may not continue to function in the future.

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it works = if you pressed the button the photocopier would work I.e. not broken. it is working = right now it is making photocopies...and I can see this if I look now. bernie

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