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What is the difference in nuance between きのう、何をしていた。 vs きのう、何をした。? To be fair, I can't really tell the difference between these two english sentences:

  1. What were you doing yesterday ?

  2. What did you do yesterday ?

Is it true that like their english counterparts, きのう、何をしていた。 and きのう、何をした。 has no difference,

Or is it true that there is some kind of hidden difference somewhere?

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For 2 it feels like the question would elicit an answer for a list of activities. For 1 the answer seems to focus on a particular activity. That's what I intuit so I'm not sure enough of this to put it as an answer. – Flaw Sep 27 '11 at 5:03
up vote 5 down vote accepted

To be fair, I can't really tell the difference between these 2 english sentences:

They are quite different in both English and Japanese, as I'll try to explain with sample situations.

昨日何をした? is a very direct and casual question to ask "what did you do yesterday." You ask it on Monday morning to your colleagues at work. There is no other message than that, you're just asking because you want to know, to be polite, whatever.

昨日何をしていた? is rather used in scolding situations. I ask you that because I waited for you the whole evening and you never came. Can be used to say "What (the heck) were you doing?"

It might not be the best explanation, but I think it's important to see that the difference lies in the usage.

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Cool, now I'm seeing a subtle difference there too =) – Pacerier Sep 27 '11 at 12:42

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