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1 What did you do at 5 am yesterday?

2 What were you doing at 5 am yesterday?

Guys, in my opinion 1 is correct but 2 needs something more it is incomplete like "What were you doing a 5 am yesterday when the accident happened). My teacher claims that 2 is right because we show the exact time. I state that we need additional activity spoken or implied to make 2 right. Who is correct?

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  • 5AM (morning) or 5PM (afternoon)? People are generally sleeping at 5am
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 14 at 12:14
  • (2) is not incomplete. If a crime was committed at 5 a.m., the police might ask a potential witness what they were doing at that exact time. Commented Feb 14 at 14:59

1 Answer 1

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2 is more normal, since you are probably more interested in activities that were ongoing at 5pm yesterday. It is a normal question to ask.

1 asks for an action that started and finished at 5pm, and only took a moment. It is an unlikely question. It is unlikely that it has an answer, or that the person knows the answer. But it would be possible to ask "What did you do at midnight on Jan 1st" (asking for the momentary action at New Year)

What did you do at midnight on Jan 1st?

I kissed my boyfriend.

What were you doing at midnight on Jan 1st?

I was having fun at a party with my friends.

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  • But we wouldn't for example say "what were you doing yesterday" unless we mean some specific moment like "what were you doing yesterday while I was having fun with my family" Am I correct? If so could you provide some time border when it is ok to use continuous without additional activity stated or implied and when it isn't?
    – Bob
    Commented Feb 14 at 9:57
  • Not really, the situation is as described in the answer. "At 5pm" is a single point in time. You use progressive aspects to ask about ongoing actions. You don't need additional activity if you are asking about an ongoing activity.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 14 at 10:01
  • So for example: "What were you doing last year" and " What did you do last year" are both fine and I could answer " I was working learning and driving" and " I workrd learned and drove"? No need for any additional activity implied with the past continuous?
    – Bob
    Commented Feb 14 at 10:23
  • Both fine, with the usual difference in meaning of the progressive aspect. (though slightly odd to ask about an activity that is ongoing over a whole year...)
    – James K
    Commented Feb 14 at 10:25
  • 1
    "I worked, learned and drove" is not an idiomatic answer. Depending on context "What did you do last year?" could be a question about last year's holiday/vacation or how you spent Christmas, for example. Commented Feb 14 at 15:07

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