This is a scene from a novel:

A boy is attacked by a bull in a field, the boy defends himself with a knife and both bull and boy are wounded. Someone asks the boy: "what has the bull done to you?" but the farmer who owns the bull asks the boy angrily: "what have you been doing to my bull?"

Why is "what have you done" used in one sentence and "what have you been doing" in the other? Could either be used in either sentence?

2 Answers 2


What has the bull done to you?

This question speaks to an incident that has completed.

What have you been doing to my bull?

This question speaks more to a pattern of past behavior, possibly leading up to an incident or even to the present moment.

The first question is one of concern for the boy, probably in sympathy for his condition and possibly trying to specifically ask what his symptoms and wounds are. The farmer’s question implies that he believes the boy has been mistreating the bull somehow, perhaps over a period of time.


Yes, both are possible for both cases. In most cases, the choice of a progressive or a punctual does not depend on the objective circumstances, but on how the speaker is choosing to view or represent the events in time.

Having said that, the choices here are more or less as expected. The boy's injury was presumably quick, so the simple past is more natural. The farmer's "What have you been doing to my bull?" suggests that the boy had been doing something to the bull over a period. From your account, that sounds as if it was not the case, but the farmer may have experience - or suspicions - of boys taunting bulls before.

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