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According to the following extract:

Mrs. Baker wanted to go ice fishing. She read several books on the subject, and finally, after purchasing all the necessary equipment, she went onto the ice. After positioning her comfortable stool, she started to make a circular cut in the ice. Frighteningly, from up above, a voice boomed: 'There are no fish under the ice.' Startled, Mrs. Baker moved farther down the ice, poured herself a large coffee, and began to cut yet another hole. Again, from the heavens, the voice boomed: 'There are no fish under the ice.' Mrs. Baker was now very concerned, so she moved way down to the opposite end of the ice, set up her stool, and began again to cut her ice-hole. The voice rang out once more: 'There are no fish under the ice.' Mrs. Baker stopped, looked upwards and said, 'Is that you Lord?' The voice replied, 'No, this is the ice-rink manager.'

I found the above text in one of the past papers of the Kangaroo English competition. However, one of the questions baffled me. It asked how many holes Mrs. Baker had dug.

According to my knowledge of the English language, I put down that she had not dug any holes, as she had never completed the act of making the circular cut in the ice. However, they have put down that the correct answer is three. I assume that they counted every time Mrs. Baker started cutting a hole as her actually having dug it. However, I personally disagree with this, and my reasoning is stated above.

Can you please tell me whether my reasoning is correct?

And if it isn't, can you please explain to me why it isn't?

I also believe that the correct answer will also heavily depend upon the precise definition of the word dig. So can you also please inform me of the precise meaning of the word dig in the above context?

  • I can't see why dictionary definitions wouldn't address this question. If they don't, why don't they? Digging involves nothing more than making some kind of impression in an object. Anything else is what I'll call semantic baggage. If you want to imply that it requires something to be completed, then that's up to you. There are any number of other verbs, used correctly, that doesn't necessitate something being finished in order to be used . . . – Jason Bassford Feb 5 '19 at 19:20
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    If she’s using a saw or an auger she hasn’t dug any holes no matter if she completed them or not. – Jim Feb 5 '19 at 20:20
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    I'm not sure I dig what you're trying to say. – Hot Licks Mar 2 at 18:12
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Can you please tell me whether my reasoning is correct?

You are right and the answer "3" is wrong - I like your thinking! You correctly point out that no fishing holes were dug. There were merely attempts at digging them.

The simple past perfect, like all simple forms of the verb, indicates a complete action from start to finish - the holes were never finished.

The question should have been "How many holes had Mrs. Baker been digging?"

The continuous form conveys an uncompleted action.

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Your issue is that the joke doesn't actually say she succeeded in digging, only that she started cutting. It's reasonable to argue that the person adjudicating the question wasn't being clear enough. And it's also not common practice to refer to ice fishing holes as having been 'dug' so much as 'cut'

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  • You cut through ice on a lake to go ice-fishing. However, on a skating rink there is usually some firm material underneath, so although you have to cut through the ice, it’s only a first step in digging a hole. You can’t dig a hole in water, but once the water is removed from the reader’s mental picture, digging is quite reasonable. – Global Charm Jun 30 at 19:35

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