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I was asked few times on my English classes "what were you doing this summer?". And now I'm wondering if it's correct to ask that question like that? As far as I know Past Continuous is used to describe actions in the past that were happening at a particular (and not very long) moment.

I think the correct way to ask about my actions during the whole summer is "What had you been doing this summer?". I guess that's the only one correct way to ask it. Or isn't it?

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  • If you were asked a question, were you the teacher?? [For your information, your entire first paragraph is wrong.] – Lambie Jan 9 at 16:21
  • @Lambie nope, I was and am now a school student. "For your information, your entire first paragraph is wrong" - what's exactly wrong? (Answer "everything" is not accepted) – JustLearn Jan 9 at 16:38
  • I was asked a few times in my English classes: [question] And now, I wondering if it is correct to ask a question like that. [or in that way]. As far as I know, PC is used to describe actions in the past that were happening at a particular moment. OR I was asked a few times in my English classes whether "question" is right. – Lambie Jan 9 at 16:42
  • No, native speakers are not usually "taught" tenses. They may be corrected by teachers and parents, etc. but when they are corrected, there is no detailed explanations as native speakers learn these differences intuitively. – Lambie Jan 9 at 16:56
  • @Lambie ok thanks. But you made a mistake "I wondering" - it needs to be "I'm wondering" – JustLearn Jan 9 at 17:10
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"What were you doing this summer?" can be correct but you need to be a bit careful with it.

If you have just seen someone that you hadn't seen for all of summer and wanted to know what they had done in that time, then it is better to ask "What have you been doing this summer?"

There are more colloquial options as well such as "What have you been up to this summer?". This is probably what I would say unless it was a formal setting.

"What were you doing this summer?" would usually be used when referencing something previously mentioned. For example, if you had already been told what they were going to be doing but had forgotten and wanted to be reminded after summer. Maybe something like: "What were you doing this summer? I know you told me but I can't remember."

Or if they had said something that you wanted more information about. Something like: "My legs hurt a lot after all the work I did this summer." "Oh. What were you doing this summer?"

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  • But why can "What have you been doing this summer?" be used? I think it'd be more correct if I said "What had you been doing this summer?", because summer is already over and I'm talking about actions that started at some certain moment in the past, continued, and then finished at some other moment in the past. But Present Perfect Continuous, as I've read many times in many different acrticles on it, is used for discribing the action that started at some point in the past, continued, and is already over to the moment of dialog or continuing further – JustLearn Oct 23 '20 at 12:22
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    I'm from England – ededededed87 Oct 23 '20 at 22:19
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    @JustLearn Your suggested sentence "What had you been doing this summer?" uses the pluperfect continuous (or at least, that was what it was called when I was taught it!) which implies that there is a a very definite 'change' at some point — you have a 'before' and an 'after' state. "What had you been doing before you moved to Spain?" "How had you been coping without your husband at home?" (i.e. he was away but has now come back). Notice both of those states are in the past (you have now moved to Spain, your husband has returned) 1/2 – BeginTheBeguine Jan 9 at 17:49
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    The reason that your question sounds odd to native speakers is that we'd only use that construction when both things have happened in the past. You're asking about a change from a past state to a present state, rather than a past state to a (different) past state. "What had you been doing before we came back to school?" sounds fine, because you now have two events in the past 2/2 2/2 – BeginTheBeguine Jan 9 at 17:50
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    @JustLearn, yes, that sounds better to me. But if summer was a while ago, I'd probably ask "What did you do last summer?" instead. – BeginTheBeguine Jan 11 at 18:02
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This will be different according to what version of English you use, UK, US, or some other.

I am from the UK.

"What were you doing this summer?" - This is grammatically correct but unusual. To me it sounds accusatory, similar to "What were you doing at the time of the murder?"

You could ask, "What did you do this summer?" but even that is rather blunt. It sounds as though you are interrogating the person.

In British English, to be polite, we would say something like, "Did you do anything interesting over the summer?"


Note

"What had you been doing this summer?" is incorrect in most circumstances.

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  • '"What had you been doing this summer?" is incorrect in most circumstances'. But why so? As I've read, Past Perfect Continuous is used to describe actions that started at some point in the past, continued, and then ended at some other moment in the past. – JustLearn Oct 23 '20 at 12:25
  • Could you explain it to me? – JustLearn Oct 23 '20 at 12:26
  • Regardless of the variants of English, what you say about "British English" here is simply not true. You have not explained the contextually relevant tense issues here. – Lambie Jan 9 at 16:23
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Tenses and meaning:

  • What were you doing this summer? [The summer is over.]

  • What have you been doing this summer? [The summer is still the season]

The past continuous implies a simple past that is not always spelled out:

  • What were you doing this summer [while you were in Paris]?
  • What were you doing this summer [while your parents were away]?
  • What were you doing this summer [when the storm broke over the mountains]?

It implies an ongoing action at a time that another one occurred.

There is no difference between any variants of standard English here. The difference is in either variant compared to a simple past or another tense.

  • What were you doing this summer? VERSUS
  • What did you do this summer? VERSUS
  • What have you been doing this summer? VERSUS
  • What have you done this summer?

All variants of English make those distinctions with regard to tenses.

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