“What Have You Done” vs. “What Did You Do”

“What have you done” and “what did you do” are accusative questions. They are almost identical in how they are phrased, but the verb tense is different. You need to make sure you understand this difference, and this article will explain what it means.

What Is The Difference Between “What Have You Done” And “What Did You Do”?

“What have you done” uses the auxiliary verb (“have”) and the past participle (“done”) to create a present perfect question. This allows us to ask what someone is currently doing. “What did you do” is the simple past tense, which asks what someone has done in the past.

What Have You Done vs What Did You Do

To help you understand it better, you can refer to the following examples:

  • Oh no! What have you done? Stop eating the cake!

Here, the present perfect tense shows that someone is currently doing something wrong. We have managed to catch them in the act, which is why “what have you done” is the best question to ask.

However, let’s now imagine they finished eating the cake a while ago. We might ask the following:

  • I see the cake is all gone. What did you do with it?

This time, “what did you do” works as the past tense. It shows that the damage has already been done, and we are just trying to find out what happened and who might have done it.

What Does “What Have You Done” Mean?

It might help to look at them a little closer. We’ll start with the present perfect question.

“What have you done” works best when someone is still doing something wrong. We use it mainly when we have caught them in the act, and we want them to explain why they are doing the things they are.

We mainly use this phrase when we want to share our disbelief. It’s almost like we’re trying to ask someone to explain themselves and the thought process that led them to do whatever they chose to do.

Check out these examples to help you with it:

  1. Oh, my god! What have you done? I can’t believe I’m seeing this!
  2. What have you done? Why didn’t you think about this sooner?
  3. Oh, what have you done? I didn’t even get a chance to see it because I was looking away.
  4. Sorry, what have you done? I can hardly understand you on this phone.
  5. What have you done? How could you be so stupid?
  6. What have you done, man?! That’s actually insane, and I don’t think you can ever do that again.
  7. What have you done? We need to find a way to cover this up!

What Does “What Did You Do” Mean?

Now, let’s go over the simple past tense question. It’s a little more common, so you might be more familiar with it.

“What did you do” works best when someone has already done something wrong. We might want to find out what they have done in the past, and using the verb “did” is a great way to try and find out what they did.

It allows us to try and get someone to own up to their mistakes.

We also don’t need to use it negatively. Sometimes, we can simply use it to ask what someone did in the past (i.e. what job they used to have). It can be a much more innocent question in many cases compared to “what have you done.”

Here are a couple of examples to explain more about it:

  1. What did you do? You never told me about any of that before.
  2. I’m sorry, but what did you do when they came and asked you all of those questions?
  3. What did you do about it when you heard? I wouldn’t know how to act.
  4. What did you do when you found out? I must say, I was a bit devastated!
  5. What did you do, then? You couldn’t have stuck around for very long.
  6. What did you do back in the day? I haven’t heard much from you since then!
  7. Wait, what did you do wrong? I’m not sure why you’re in trouble.

Are “What Have You Done” And “What Did You Do” Interchangeable?

“What have you done” and “what did you do” can work interchangeably, but it’s best not to use them in this way. Some native speakers will use them interchangeably, but that only applies in spoken English, where the rules are more relaxed.

However, you might come across the following:

  • What did you do to the kitchen?
  • What have you done to the kitchen?

If we ask a simple question like this, it can work whether we use the simple past tense or the present perfect tense. They both aim to find out what someone did at some point in the past.

Is “What Have You Done” Or “What Did You Do” Used The Most?

It might help to check over some statistics to see which is the most popular phrase.

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “what did you do” is the most popular question of the two. This might be the case since most people will ask about past actions (which is what “did” does).

what have you done vs what did you do historical development

It’s not as common for people to use “what have you done” because it’s the present perfect tense. It would require someone to be there while someone is doing something wrong, which is a much rarer occurrence.

Are “What Have You Done” And “What Did You Do” Used Differently In The UK And The US?

Finally, let’s look to see whether the questions are used differently based on your geographical location.

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “what did you do” is much more common in American English, showing that it is still more popular to use the past tense to ask this question.

what have you done vs what did you do American English

The same goes for British English, since according to Google Ngram Viewer, “what did you do” is still the most popular choice.

what have you done vs what did you do British English

Both questions are used in both languages. However, both the UK and the US use “what did you do” more frequently. This shows it’s much more common to ask the question in the past tense.

You may also like: “Did You Do It” vs. “Have You Done It” – Difference Explained