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I keep having difficulties with past tenses: 1. If action has started and is still going on we can ask "how long have you been doing that", right? 2. Is Present Perfect Simple possible here? "How long have you done that?" What would that express? 3. If action is something general we can simply ask "how long do you do it?". 4. If action is a thing from the past should we ask "how long did you do it"? 5. And if we want to underline that the action was in progress for some time should we ask "how long were you doing this"? 6. What with preposition "for"? We can put it at the end: "How long have you been doing that for?" and at the beginning: "For how long have you been doing that?" Any other combinations?

closed as too broad by Michael Rybkin, Jason Bassford, SamBC, choster, virolino Apr 22 at 9:51

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  1. If action has started and is still going on we can ask "how long have you been doing that", right? Certainly. "I go swimming every morning." "How long have you been doing that?" "Around ten years."
  2. Is Present Perfect Simple possible here? "How long have you done that?" What would that express? That sounds fine too. "I go swimming every morning." "And how long have you done that?" "Around ten years now." Means pretty much the same as the first.
    1. If action is something general we can simply ask "how long do you do it?". No, that doesn't really work. Unless you add a for on the end, but that changes the meaning of the question. "I go swimming every morning." "How long do you do it for?" "Around an hour each time." Now you're asking how long the activity takes, instead of how long it's been going on for.
  3. If action is a thing from the past should we ask "how long did you do it"? Yes, that's fine. "I used to go swimming every morning." "How long did you do that?" "For ten years, until I moved away from the coast."
    1. And if we want to underline that the action was in progress for some time should we ask "how long were you doing this"? Only if you want to sound like a policeman or authority figure interrogating someone, or someone who can't quite believe what they're hearing. "I used to go swimming every morning, you know." "What!? How long were you doing that for?"
  4. What with preposition "for"? We can put it at the end: "How long have you been doing that for?" and at the beginning: "For how long have you been doing that?" Any other combinations? I think in general they all sound a bit better with a for at the end. For at the beginning isn't wrong, but it sounds more stilted and less natural. You could use it in more formal settings, like our interrogating policeman. "Can you describe your actions from around 10am?" "Well, I go swimming every morning, you see." "And for how long have you been doing that?"

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