What's the difference between the two? Example:

The classrooms had only students. Had the school a shortage of teachers?

The classrooms had only students. Was the school having a shortage of teachers?

(Or maybe one of them is ungrammatical?)

  • 1
    The first version is now outdated., but would once have been acceptable. The second version is much better for the modern world.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 19 '15 at 9:08
  • "Had the teachers gone on strike?" is an example of common inversion with the auxiliary; but as StoneyB and WadCheber say, when "had" is the lexical verb and not a helper to form the perfect, you won't see inversion nowadays. And we might also use dummy 'there' to reinforce the idea of ongoing state: "Was there a shortage of teachers at the school?" Jul 19 '15 at 15:16

The progressive expresses a continuing state rather than an event, so we ordinarily do not use verbs whose meaning designates a state in the progressive. It's superfluous.

Have is freely used in the progressive when it expresses an event (I'm having some people over tonight. or I'll have my secretary send it to you.), but in your example it expresses the state of undergoing a shortage. We would use the progressive, Was the school having a shortage?, only to suggest that we had a temporary shortage in mind.

Note, by the way, that the practice of inverting have with its subject in questions when it is not used as the perfect auxiliary has become quite rare, even in British English; it has virtually vanished from American English. Most people today would say

Did the school have a shortage of teachers?

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