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I'd like to know if "what have you done?" can be used as a neutral question, since it is often used to express anger, shock or sadness.

For example: I want to close a window that has been opened by someone else, but it doesn't close. Can I ask the person who has opened it in a neutral, friendly way: "what have you done to my window?" or is "what have you been doing to my window?" more appropriate? Or do both sound accusatory?

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What have you been doing to my window? In everyday speech, that is probably not a continuous action though one can imagine that is it.

A person could rent a friend's flat and the window could show signs of wear-and-tear that the friend believes has been caused by banging it more than once. When the friend comes back to the apartment, he or she might say that.

What have you done to my window?

The imaginary friend above could also say this.

Neither is more or less rude.

They are just direct. There is no semantic trait per se that makes one more rude and the other more polite.

The only difference would be carried by intonation, in either case.

  • "in everyday speech, that is probably not a continuous action". could you clarify? – anouk Mar 17 at 22:07
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    It is so hard to explain these pragmatic and intonational meanings online. Ok, well, the person who asks the question is thinking (not saying) something like: He's been banging my bloody window all week while I was away and that's why it's broken? – Lambie Mar 18 at 0:01
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These questions could sound rude or not depending on your tone of voice - obviously not something that can be transcribed here. But to avoid ambiguity (especially if you're communicating through written means like email or text), maybe couch the question in polite language, by first assuring them you are not angry and aren't blaming them, e.g.:

I know you didn't mean to do anything wrong, but I see that the window no longer closes, and you were the last one to open it. Is there anything you can think of that you might have done to the window inadvertently?

  • Sorry, bad example, I just want to know if "What have you done?" can be used in a neutral way, at all? – anouk Mar 11 at 18:26
  • Yes, if you're not talking about that specific window example anymore. @JasonBassford has a good answer. "What have you done" need not be used to express anything negative and can be perfectly neutral. – Mixolydian Mar 11 at 18:43
  • Do you mean like what did you do? – Jeef Mar 11 at 23:31
  • @Jeef yes, that question can also be neutral. – Mixolydian Mar 12 at 0:56
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"What have you done to my window?" is an accusation. It assumes that the person has done something (and something that is bad).

Presumably the person didn't deliberately do something to make your window stick. The person presumably just opened or closed it for reasons of ventilation. They don't know what they did so there is no point in asking them.

A Possibility:

My window is stuck. Did you notice anything unusual when you opened/closed it?

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    Yes, exactly. "What have you done?" definitely assumes he did something. At least slightly better would be, "Did you [by any chance] do anything?" – Lorel C. Mar 17 at 22:14
  • It can just be a question. The deciding factor is intonation. It is not in the words themselves. – Lambie Mar 18 at 12:54
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Depending on context, it can be perfectly neutral and have nothing to do with fault at all.

Let's say I come home from work to my house, which is being renovated. I see some workers there and ask them:

So, what have you done today?

It's a simple (and neutral) question, asking what they've accomplished.


You can do something good, bad, or neutral.

In fact, if used in the above context, doing something is often a positive, not a negative. ("Just look at everything I've done!")

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    What did you do today seems more natural. – Jeef Mar 11 at 23:31
  • There is nothing "more natural" about "What did you do today" over "What have you done today?". They are both natural sounding, and 100% idiomatic English. – Lambie Mar 17 at 21:59

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