Archive for June 27, 2011

the difference between words: past tense and was/were + ing

Last week, I wrote a blog entry about the difference between “will” and “will be” + ing. Today, I’d like to do the same thing about the simple past tense and the past progressive tense.

We use the simple past tense to talk about past events in general, but we use the past progressive tense (-ing form) when we want to focus on a specific time or event in the past. For example:

A: What did you do yesterday?

B: I worked yesterday.


A: What were you doing at 4:00 yesterday afternoon?

B: I was working at that time.

So, in this case, the two speakers are focusing on the specific time of 4:00 and contrasting that with what happened during the rest of the day.

However, we can also say something like:

A: What were you doing yesterday?

B: I was working yesterday.

In this case, the speakers are focusing on yesterday as a unit of time and contrasting that with what happened during the whole week or month.

We often use the two tenses together when we want to talk about an interruption in the past or when something happened in the middle of another action. For example:

I was watching TV when you called last night.

I was writing an email to you when I received your email.

By the time you got to the office yesterday, I was giving my presentation in the meeting

On the day you finished your project, I was already working on another project.

We use the past progressive to talk about two actions that were taking place at the same time in the past. For example:

While I was cooking dinner, my wife was cleaning the living room.

Nancy was fixing the computer as her boss was entering the office.

My mother was crying as I was driving away in my car.

In these cases, the word “as” means the same thing as “while”.

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