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immediate past Options
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 2:06:32 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/21/2015
Posts: 489
Neurons: 8,455
What tenses are good for the actions in the immediate past?

One of my colleagues is coming back to the office from the street and I want to know what he/she has just done. They might have been smoking/talking on the phone etc. What are good options?

- You are coming back from the street...

a) What were you (just) doing there?
b) What did you do there?
c) What have you done there?
d) What have you been doing outside?


A similar scenario. I enter the office and I see my colleague is sitting still thinking. What questions would be fine?

e) What were you (just) doing ?
f) What did you (just) do?
g) What have you (just) done?
h) What have you been (just) doing?
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 2:22:46 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 33,505
Neurons: 212,798
Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
HI!
For all these situations, you could use any of them, but they sound very accusative - like you think you caught him doing something he shouldn't be doing. At the least, a bit nosy.

You would have to be sure your tone of voice is light - maybe even a bit 'joking'.

The b,c,f,g ones are not exactly right for immediate past, and a & e are just TOO accusative to get away with - the perfect continuous is the best tense for immediate past.
Hi! What've you been up to?
What have you been doing out there?


It might be better to be a bit "oblique" and add a comment.
A. Hi. Looks cold out there; no phone signal inside?
B. No - just went to get some air.
Romany
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 5:58:49 AM
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Joined: 6/14/2009
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Location: Brighton, England, United Kingdom

Drago's right - a parent/teacher might feel they have a right to ask these questions - but otherwise it would be extremely rude to ask questions like that.

However, note that h) has the "just" incorrectly placed: it should be "What have you just been doing?"
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 11:50:37 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/21/2015
Posts: 489
Neurons: 8,455
Thank you very much. It's getting clearer. One more thing. Being a person interested in English I am open to different opinions of natives and I remember being exposed to the idea expressed by some natives that there is a difference between:

1 What have you been talking? (the present perfect continuous)
and
2 What were you talking? (the past continuous)

They said that 1 implied a series of talks in the recent past while 2 implied a one-off conversation in the immediate past. Does it hold water? If it's true then d and h are not OK in my contexts or maybe it's possible to stretch them to the point where they are acceptable. What do you think?
Wilmar (USA) 1M
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 11:59:58 AM

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Location: Vinton, Iowa, United States
Regarding the original question, if you do want to "confront" someone about their very recent activities, you would ask the following.
"What were you doing just now?" This phrasing is used when the question is about the *immediate* past, such as when you walk in on someone who appears to be "up to no good". Be VERY careful with this question.

Regarding the new question, let's start with fixing up your questions.

1 What have you been talking about? (the present perfect continuous)
and
2 What were you talking about? (the past continuous)

Carry on.
Ivan Fadeev
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 12:32:24 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/21/2015
Posts: 489
Neurons: 8,455
Thank you for having added "about" but I have written enough to demonstrate my point for you to see it. Drago doesn't disapprove of the present perfect continuous and it makes me wonder why.

PS: by they way - let's start with fixing up or by fixing up?
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 5:53:15 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 33,505
Neurons: 212,798
Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
Yeah.
"Talk", "say", "speak" are odd verbs in that they seem to mean more or less the same, but they're used differently. You can't ask "What have you been talking?" but you could ask "What have you been saying?" or "What have you been talking about?"

Anyway - your question:

What have you been talking about? As a perfect aspect, it relates to a time period from some point in the past to the present (to make it a specified point, you have to add "since____"). So it relates to any instances of speaking in that whole period.
What have you been talking about since your last lecture here?

..................................................NOW
_______|====================>|______


What were you talking about? relates to one incident in the past which has a relatively short duration.
What were you talking about in your last lecture here? or What did you talk about in your last lecture here?

..................................................NOW
_______|=>|_____________________|______

*********************
Concerning d & h - they ask the right thing, they are grammatically OK and don't sound awkward (once you move the "just") it's a matter of manners, not language - so it's English grammar in that grammar is a study of how words and sentences are used - and questions like this are not USED. Well, as Romany says, a parent or teacher may feel they have the right to question what a child has been doing - but not a work colleague. It seems it's the same in the USA, as Wilmar also says you'd sound like you were confronting someone who was up to no good (doing something wrong).

The normal answer to any of your eight questions would probably be "Mind your own business!" or something even more angry.
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