As far as I see, both forms of question "What were you doing at 7 o'clock yesterday?" and "What did you do at 7 o'clock yesterday?" could be used to ask about someone's action in past. But are there a difference between them?

As far as I understand, when we ask "What were you doing at 7 o'clock yesterday?" we let know that we ask about some process (like "what were you doing when I've entered the room at 7 o'clock"), and if we ask "What did you do at 7 o'clock yesterday?" we let know that we ask about some momentary action (like "You did something at 7 o'clock that caused computer crash. What exactly did you do at that moment?")

Am I right or not?

2 Answers 2


Your sense of the meanings is right. "What did you do at 7 PM?" refers to a more or less exact time. "What were you doing at 7 PM?" means "What activity were you engaged in?". That can still mean exactly at 7 PM, but suggests that the activity extended before and after that time.
Either question could be used in your computer crash example.


There is actually not much difference between these questions. There is a slight implication of a single action by "What did you do" as opposed to "What were you doing", but it is very slight.

Just in case you're interested: We would also say "But is there a difference between them?" -- since you are asking about "a difference", you use the singular verb, not the plural.

Also: "we let know" is understandable but awkward. You could say "We are letting you know" or "letting the listener know"; you could even say "we are making it known"; all of these are better grammar, but a little formal for this purpose. I might suggest "We imply we are asking about some process..." or just "we are asking about a process"

One more (and ALL of these are minor): we would use an article in front of "computer crash" -- "You did something at 7 o'clock that caused a computer crash" or "... the computer crash."

I hope it is all right that I point these things out; I reasoned that it is a site dedicated to helping people with English usage, and assumed you would be interested. I admire anyone who can make themselves understood in a 2nd language, much less people who can analyze its grammar to improve their usage.

  • thanks a lot for this! for sure, we are here to learn and improve English, so I really appreciate for any information that is matched to theese goals.
    – AlexandrX
    Aug 16, 2020 at 13:19

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