1. It doesn't seem to be working?

  2. It doesn't seem to work?

I don't know which of these sentences is right—or if they are both correct, what the difference is between them. Can someone explain?

  • Did you intend to phrase your examples as questions? If not, perhaps you should end them with a period. Then you won't get answers about proper word order for interrogative sentences. Jun 26, 2015 at 6:53

2 Answers 2


There is a potential aspectual difference, as Flater suggests in their answer; but in my view this difference is so slight that speakers are unlikely to make it.

I think the difference is a social one, to do with politeness. Both sentences already have the buffer word seem, making them less categorical than It doesn't work. Be working is another buffer ("I'm not saying, heaven forbid, that it never works, just that it is not working at the moment") to make the statement even less categorical, and so more polite.

  • Yes; the hedging could well be self-protective. 'It doesn't seem to work' connotes necessary expenditure / other hassle whereas 'It doesn't seem to be working' connotes 'Perhaps if I give it a kick...?'. Interestingly, the Internet access was down on my computer until a few minutes ago. Jun 26, 2015 at 9:25

Although I can't find confirmation on this, I would interpret the meaning to be different.

  • It doesn't seem to be working?

"The machine currently isn't in a working state".

As in, you cannot use it right now. We need to fix/complete it first.

  • It doesn't seem to work?

"The machine doesn't do what it needs to do".

Meaning that the machine can still be in a perfectly working state as it was intended to be built, but it simply doesn't solve the problem it was supposed to.
This mean you're not talking about the current state of the machine, but the intention of its design. It wouldn't work even if it was in a working state.

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