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English as a Second Language/got stuck on a grammar point


QUESTION: Respected sir,

Would you pls tell me .. is action in following text in progress ?

-- She has not been crying, she has been cutting onion.

If not .. Can we use .. She was not crying, she was cutting onion ..


The first sentence expresses action still in progress.

It is the present perfect tense and is used for action that has been completed at an unspecified time in the past.  This particular usage of present progressive, however, implies the action is continuing up until now .

Here is a link that explains it nicely and has time diagrams:

"She was not crying, she was cutting onion," indicates action has been completed.  No action is in progress.

If I may, I'd like to make one more suggestion.  The plural of onion is onions.  It is a common error among English language learners, so if you can master pluralism you will be one step ahead :) As a kid I was taught "regular" plurals first - the ones ending in "-s" and "-es" - and then memorized the short list of "exceptions."

Have a great day and I wish you happy holidays if they are coming up for you!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Respected,

I am still confused

suppose.. action is just finished.. how do we say it in english ?
She has been ING  or She was ING ?

Oh good I'm glad you asked again - I saw in your comments you were still confused.

For an action that has just finished... we use  additional words that act as clues.  You just used one in your question - the word "just."

There were two actions in your original sentence using the present perfect tense.  There was the crying (more accurately, the appearance of crying), and the cutting.

I will give some example sentences that express that the cutting has just finished.  There are many ways to indicate this. Also please note that you and I both know cutting onions can make it look like a person is crying - if we did not know this the original sentences would have been confusing.  Anyway, on to the examples....

- She had been cutting onions UP UNTIL NOW (this gives us a time that the action ended).

- She has JUST finished cutting onions; she has not been crying (this is present perfect as used in my previous answer... so there is an action that is in progress.  The action that is in progress (we don't know what it is) gives her the appearance of having been crying - for example teary eyes or red eyes).  Her eyes are red NOW, or her eyes ARE TEARING NOW.  So, she is finished cutting onions, but whatever is happening with her face is still continuing into the present).

- Her eyes ARE red because she was cutting onions (her eyes are red in the present, so she must have recently stopped cutting onions... her eyes would not be red one day or one year after cutting onions).  

Now... let's indicate that the action of whatever it was that made it look like she was crying JUST FINISHED.  Let's say her eyes were tearing from the onions and we want to indicate that her eyes JUST FINISHED tearing.  An informal way to say that one's eyes are tearing (but not due to crying - which happens due to the expression of an emotion) is to say one's eyes are watering.  

- Her eyes were watering because she JUST FINISHED CUTTING onions.  (Since she just finished cutting the onions, her eyes must have stopped being red very recently).

- Her eyes are dry NOW, but she was cutting onions.

So... the actions are linked by a short amount of time because we know the effect cutting onions can have on the eyes.  First, the onion is cut, then, the eyes become irritated.  First, the cutting of the onion stops, then, the irritation stops.

We can talk about the time in so many places!  Before the cutting (and so before the irritation), before the irritation but after the cutting, during the irritation and during the cutting, during the irritation but after the cutting, and after the cutting and after the irritation.

I hope I haven't confused you further.  Here is another link in case I did not explain it well:

English as a Second Language

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I can answer any question about the English language or US culture for non-native English speakers. I will not answer homework questions.


Native English speaker, experience teaching English to ELLs.

Bachelor's Degree, Seattle University

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