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Let's say I am in a building with multiple floors, I see my friend in the lobby and I want to ask him

Did you come from upstairs? or

Are you coming from upstairs (if I know he has just come.)

I did not find any google phrase search result when I looked it up, so I am not sure if it is idiomatic or not.

On the other hand, I always hear the phrase

Are you going downstairs/upstairs?

So I think it is perfectly idiomatic.

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@emi - good clarification. ( I noticed your post in chat and came over here. I tutored English to German speakers (Hamburg & Berlin) for many years. )

@Tim - the 'continuous' form is often challenging to translate. You are right in this case to use the simple:

Are you going downstairs/upstairs?

The continuous form (*) is used for things happening in the moment, placed within the verb tense time frame:

I am running.

I was running.

I have been running (all day, so I'm really tired). :)

Here's an instance where it might happen using your example question.

Lets say there's a fire and a lot of smoke in that building. The firemen have been in there a little bit, but can't see each other well. One fireman sees the other on the stairs, but doesn't know which way the other has gone. He might radio:

Are you coming from upstairs ?

Asking indirectly "have you been up there ? Do we need to search there ? " Or "which way do we go next ? " But he'd probably just ask:

Anything up there ?

Here's a trick to remembering this: think of running water.

Statement of an ultimate fact using present tense: Water runs. (It's the nature of water :)

Statement of a condition in the passing moment: The water is running (now). (Oops, you forgot to turn the water off :))


(* in German it's something like "verlaufsform" ? - Laufen = run. But German, like many languages, does not have a continuous form. )

  • I don't think OP is German but I guess his native language does also lack progressive tense. – Em1 Aug 30 '13 at 6:27

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