Normally when talking about something that is happening now we use present progressive, and when we talk about that happens as a habit, custom, etc. we use the present simple. That is clear. But if I'm not mistaken I noticed that when people talk about working of device or machine -at the moment- they're used to use present simple rather than present progressive. They say:

"Why does it not work"

Instead of:

"Why is it not working"?

Does it reflect the norm or the most native speakers and it is like an idiom or is it just a mistake?

  • See this usage chart, showing that we much prefer Why isn't it working? over Why doesn't it work? (when contracted; uncontracted Why is not it working isn't remotely idiomatic). Aug 8, 2023 at 15:26

3 Answers 3


Native speakers say both:

Why isn't it working?

Why doesn't it work?

Both questions mean "What's wrong with it?" or "What is causing it to malfunction?" or "What is keeping it from doing what it's supposed to do?" perhaps in the case of some medication, say.

I've been putting this ointment on for a week but the rash hasn't gone away. Why isn't it working?


Your understanding of present progressive vs simple present contains the answer to your question. Usually, the broken state of a malfunctioning device is not confined within the current moment. Even if the asker only cares about the state at the moment, their question may still ask why it does not work generally, using simple present. The question may also be asked at a time when the device is not even being used.

For example:

Jill walks into a house from outside.

Jill: "Why does the car not work?"

Bill: "Oh, the battery is dead."

The present progressive will be more likely when the device is being used at the time of the question.

For example:

Two people sit in front of a computer.

Lin: "Why is the keyboard not working?"

Jin: "Oh, it is unplugged."

However, either construction works in both cases.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. I added the important words "at the moment" that make my question more understandable. I saw people use present simple tense about the moment. Dec 11, 2018 at 22:44
  • 1
    @Perplexed folks, I have updated accordingly, although the answer is more or less the same.
    – Tashus
    Dec 11, 2018 at 23:32

Both are used. Both are common. Both mean more or less the same thing. I couldn't say which is more common than the other, as this might vary between different dialects and different contexts, and possibly even different people at different times.

For example, suppose I'm writing a computer program and the output isn't what I expect. I might say either:

Why doesn't it work?


Why isn't it working?

possibly with some added expletives for emphasis.

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