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Past Simple or Continuous
Past simple or past continuous?
The past simple is used to talk about finished actions in the past.
A common mistake students make is to use the past continuous when the action was carried out over a long period of time.
Look at these two sentences:
I lived in Rome for twenty years (correct)
I was living in Rome for twenty years (incorrect)
The past continuous is used to describe an action in progress at a specific moment in the past.
Compare these two questions:
1- What did you do yesterday? (past simple)
2- What were you doing at 18.30 yesterday evening? (past continuous)
The answer to the first question requires the speaker to talk about finished actions:
I did the shopping in the morning, then I cooked lunch. After that I watched TV for a while. In the evening some friends came over for dinner.
The answer to the second question requires the speaker to use the past continuous .
I was laying the table.
The past continuous tense is also used to describe the background when we are narrating a story.
It was a lovely morning. Matthew got out of bed and opened his bedroom window. The sun was shining and some birds were chirping in the trees.
The past continuous and the past simple are often used together when we talk about an action already in progress while a short action comes in the middle of it.
Compare these two sentences:
While I was living in Rome, I met my wife. (a long action and a short action)
While I was laying the table, my husband was making dessert. (two long simultaneous actions)
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