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This is the clip blowing up the elevator from The Matrix (1999).

Agent Brown and Agent Jones walk back into the office where Agent Smith is 'questioning' Morpheus.

Agent Smith stands up hastily and looks shocked by their sudden entry.

Agent Jones : What were you doing?!

Agent Brown : He doesn't know (what's going on outside)...

Agent Smith : Know what?

Agent Smith plugs his earpiece back in, and looks at the other two agents.

I wonder whether he can say "What did you do?" or "What have you done?" instead in this particular situation?

"What were you doing?" implies it is a process in which something is clearly or implictly stated.(like, I was reading a book when it began to rain. I was reading it at six), but I cannot find an implicit signifying thing here.

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    Can you edit to explain the context? I'm at work and can't view the clip so I don't know what you mean by "this particular situation". (We also try on StackExchange sites to make things clear just from the question or answer alone, to protect against link rot.) – starsplusplus Apr 25 '14 at 8:26
  • It is done. @starsplusplus – Kinzle B Apr 25 '14 at 8:44
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    From the script you've given, I'd say that the implicit statement would be something like, "What were you doing [just now]?" or "What were you doing [before you came in]?" – starsplusplus Apr 25 '14 at 11:29
  • If I remember it correctly, in the movie it was like, "What were you doing (while they were invading us)?" [Neo and Trinity came to rescue Morpheus.] With a subtext, "So you haven't known what was going on!" – Damkerng T. Apr 25 '14 at 12:43
  • That is possible, but it cannot explain why Agent Jones shows his surprise at the way Agent Smith is 'questioning' Morpheus. @Damkerng T. – Kinzle B Apr 25 '14 at 13:14
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The two in the room were doing something, but the two walking in were not aware what that was.

So when they walk in they ask what it was the people (or one of them) in the room were doing.

If they would ask What did you do? or What have you done?, this would imply that they did not walk in on an ongoing action (like talking, or interrogating), but that they notice that something has happened (which has now finished, but the evidence of which is present).

Both those options would apply is one of the people in the room would appear to be dead when the two men enter.

man enters room, sees other man and an unmoving body
What did you do! Why did you kill him!?
Don't worry, he's not dead. Just unconscious.

Since the assumption in the movie is that whatever the men were doing in the room was an ongoing activity, the question is not posed as if a completed action is assumed.

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I think that in the context you mention what were you doing fits perfectly, I presume that these guys stop their activity when they see the police. So it refers to a continuos action in the past.

  • I know it fits, but I was considering the other three options. – Kinzle B Apr 25 '14 at 8:25
  • The other options imply different contexts. That they are doing something the moment the police arrive, or did something sometime in the past. What have you done is not so effective as the continuos form here,I think. – user5267 Apr 25 '14 at 8:29
  • Why not "what did you do just now?"? @Josh61 – Kinzle B Apr 25 '14 at 8:45
  • It doesn't sound correct, does it? – user5267 Apr 25 '14 at 8:52
  • Why is that? This also represents a past event. @Josh61 – Kinzle B Apr 25 '14 at 8:56

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