Posted by Smokey Stover on October 13, 2004

In Reply to: Being? posted by David FG on October 13, 2004

: : : : Where were her artworks displayed?
: : : : Where were her artworks *being* displayed?

: : : : Could anyone tell the difference?

: : : : thanks
: : : No difference.

: : It's times like this that I feel for anyone trying to learn our language.

: I think I detect a possible slight difference. 'Where were her...' implies that the exhibition is over.

: 'Where were her artworks being...' Could suggest that the exhibition is still taking place.

: I am not very confident about this.


Once again a too long comment.
Where were her artworks displayed?
: : : : Where were her artworks *being* displayed?

There is a lot of overlap between the two verbs, but there is a definite difference. It may seem to relate more to style than substance, but is still an important difference. Both questions are incomplete; both need to answer the question, "When?" Without qualifiers, the simple past can refer to any time or period of time between the Creation and earlier today. It can overlap the time frame indicated by the past perfect, by the perfect, and by the past progressive. Without qualifiers, this particular question might be taken to mean, "In what galleries, museums, homes or other places were her works ever on display?" Without qualifiers someone might answer the question by naming cities. You can easily add a clause like "while she was alive," or "during the period in question" (assuming there was a period in question). It makes the sentence a lot stronger to narrow the meaning to what is really wanted, by means of adverbs or adverbial phrases or clauses. What you may actually want to know could be, "What are the kinds of places that displayed her art?" Or "What are the most important or significant places in which her art was displayed?"

"Where were they being displayed?" That sentence just can't be answered at all without one or more adverbial qualifiers. Without a context there is no default guess, not even a poor one. The past progressive requires an explicit time qualifier, an answer to the question, "When?" One reason for using the past progressive is that it correlates with some immediacy the events in the life of her artworks with other events, either in the artist's life or in the world in which the artist or her artworks lived. The question in its first form, with the simple past, is by comparison bland and general.

Are these real questions, from some actual source? It would be interesting to know. SS