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Tenses with yesterday Options
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 7:15:42 AM

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Joined: 2/21/2015
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Are these good?

What did you do yesterday? (good)
What had you done yesterday before I saw you? (good)
What were you doing today? (not sure)
Helenej
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 7:47:04 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/24/2013
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Location: Kiev, Kyiv City, Ukraine
Ivan Fadeev wrote:
Are these good?

What did you do yesterday? (good)
What had you done yesterday before I saw you? (good)
What were you doing today? (not sure)What were you doing today? (not sure)

For your information, yesterday and today are different things.
thar
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 8:04:31 AM

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They mean different things - the choice of tense adds information about the time of the action in relation to some other time frame.

What had you done yesterday before I saw you?
This is making the action perfect and complete - ie what tasks had you completed before the time that I saw you.
The time frame is constrained by 'yesterday' ie tasks completed before yesterday don't count.


What had you been doing yesterday before I saw you?
When I saw you, you stopped doing things. What tasks (or crimes) had you been performing in the period before I stopped you?

What were you doing yesterday?
It is a prolonged duration - what tasks were you performing during that time?

What were you doing yesteday when I saw you?
At that particular single point in time, what activities were you engaged in?

What did you do yesterday?
Simple past - what actions did you engage in?
The start and end is constrained by the time frame 'yesterday'

What did you do today?
simple past.
The start is constrained by 'today' the end is constrained by 'now' or some other concept of 'today' (eg in school, at work, while you were out).

What have you done today?
Past up to present or effect still valid in present.
Start constrained by start of today, end constrained by now or end of 'today' as a concept, as above.
Most things that you have done today are still 'true' so present usually fits fine.

What are you doing now?
At this moment, what activities are you engaged in?

What are you doing today?
Future plans, intentions - you probably ask in the morning.

What will you do today?
Fixed plans - you probably ask in the morning.

What are you going to do today?
Future intentions, your decision - you ask in the morning

What will you have done, today (by the end of today)?
The past from a future perspective.
Asked in the morning, to look back from a perspective of the end of the day.
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 2:32:39 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/21/2015
Posts: 607
Neurons: 9,965
Thank you Thar!
What were you doing yesterday? - is bad on its own, right?
thar
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 2:51:04 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/8/2010
Posts: 22,414
Neurons: 90,814
No, it is fine. It implies a progressive time-frame, so it is mostly used to ask about the overall action of the day, rather than specific actions within it. Ie what tasks were you engaged in, where were you?

Eg
What were you doing yesterday?
I was working on the new grant proposal.
I was out in the field (ie working away from the office)
I was doing various things, seeing various people.

It can also be used as the enveloping time-frame for a specific event.
eg
What were you doing yesterday when I called? You didn't answer.

Whereas the simple past is not interested in the time, it is more interested in the action.

What did you do yesterday?
I completed most of the new grant proposal.
I took readings from all field sites, and I will send you the data once I have compiled it.
I didn't get much done. I did a few things and saw a few people but I didn't have time to do anything on the grant proposal.

Of course it also depends on the verb involved - the verb 'to do' has implications of not only participating in something, but also achieving something, in certain contexts. So you can't always assume that what works for one verb will transfer to others.
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 4:57:13 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/21/2015
Posts: 607
Neurons: 9,965
Thank you!
What does this mean:

I took readings from all field sites, and I will send you the data once I have compiled it.
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 5:17:46 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 34,213
Neurons: 224,906
Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
It very much depends on the occupation of the person.

If you asked me "What were you doing yesterday?", it's a general question - just asking for information. I'd answer "I was taking readings . . ."
"What did you do yesterday?" has a 'sharper' feel to it. Almost like "It doesn't seem like you got anything done yesterday. Where are the products? What did you do?"

If he's a seismologist, that answer means he spent the day travelling around several sites, taking readings of ground-vibrations with a seismograph at each one.

If he's an environmentalist, it may mean that he spent the day travelling round to different places taking readings of air-pollution with a gas analyser, or sound levels with a dB-meter . . .
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