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“to be doing”

Do you use both these in your variant?

“What does he want us to do when the boss arrives?” (action can begin at the moment the woman arrives)

“What does he want us to be doing when the boss arrives?” (action must begin before the woman arrives)

  • December 12, 2005
  • Posted by m56
  • Filed in Grammar

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I don't understand the question.

Both of these are valid and useful expressions. To clarify a bit, I would say that the first expression generally implies that the the activity is in response to the boss arriving and the second expression emphasizes that the activity is ongoing, or gives the impression of having been ongoing even if it isn't in actuality.

In the first case you might see an example of something that began before the boss arrives if it is an "activity" that describes an ongoing situation (e.g., "what do you want to wear when the boss arrives," "what do you want us to have on the wall when the boss arrives," or "what should our cubicles look like when the boss arives"). Almost always, however, it will be an activity that happens in response to the boss arriving--it can happen the moment the boss arrives (e.g., "how shall I greet the boss when he arrives") or it can happen later (e.g, "what form should I fill out when the boss arrives" or "what should I say to the team when the boss arrives")

The second expression is really of one of the types I mentioned above--an ongoing state. That is to say, the key part of the statement is "to be", not the participle "doing", which is interchangeable, grammatically, with an adjective. Another way to think of it is that it is describing a state of being _as_ an activity. Consider similar sentences: "what color does he want us to be when the boss arrives" and "what mood does he want us to be in when the boss arrives." These all describe a state. Whether that state started before the boss arrived is irrelevant; all that matters is that it be in place the moment the boss arrives, which would mean that the preparations must have started a few moments, hours, or days, etc., before.

Consider these also, which require and emphasize that the action begins before the boss arrives:

"What does he want us to have done when the boss arrives?"

"What does he want us to have been doing when the boss arrives?"

Anonymous December 13, 2005, 1:20pm

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Your variant? Is that a linguistic classification of a dialect, or _________? Kindly elaborate.

souzinho January 9, 2006, 8:02pm

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Yes I would use both of these exactly in the way you stated. I am from Western Canada.

Tyler January 11, 2006, 4:39am

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I juzt cam bak frum Czech Slovakia, but i wud for sure say that yu can youse both statments.

Do and doing ar alot alik.

hop i helpd!


Tottmar January 12, 2006, 12:33pm

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Yes, I use them both. They each have their own application and they are not interchangeable.

Bismarck June 21, 2006, 7:02am

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Yes     No