Both tenses have a continuous form. These continuous tenses are formed with the verb be and the –ing form of the verb:

We use continuous aspect:

  • for something happening before and after a given time.

He’s getting on the train. [before and after the moment of speaking]
It was quarter past ten. We were watching the news on television.

  • for something continuing before and after another action:

Mother will be cooking the dinner when we get home.
We were waiting for the bus when it started to rain.

  • for something continuing for some time:

Everybody will be waiting for us.
They had been working hard all day.

  • for something happening again and again:

They’ve been doing that every day this week.
The children were always shouting.
He will be practising the piano every night.

  • for something temporary:

We are renting an apartment until our house is ready..
He was working in a garage during the vacation.

  • for something new:

We have moved from Birmingham. We’re living in Manchester now.
He had left university and was working in his father’s business.

  • to describe something changing or developing:

Everything has been getting more difficult.
He was growing more bad-tempered every day. 

Exercise

Comments

What is the difference between the two following sentences?
"Someone next door had been playing heavy metal music all night long. I
didn’t get a wink of sleep."
"Someone next door was playing heavy metal music all night long. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.
Thank you

Hello Ahmed Imam
The first uses the past perfect continuous tense and the second uses the past continuous tense. Both appear to be expressing the context for the second sentence (about not sleeping). This is a typical use of both tenses. The past perfect form in the first sentences makes it clear that the music began before the not sleeping; we can surmise this from the second sentence as well, but the verb tense in itself doesn't emphasise it as much as in the first one.
All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Is it proper to use the past simple tense in place of the past continuous tense in sentences such as the following using "when" when one action in taking place at the same time as another action? For example:

- I'm sorry if I was rude to you earlier. I was in a bad mood when I cooked/was cooking dinner.

- I found the event mostly boring, but I did have a lot of fun when we played/were playing that game.

- I asked him that when we spoke/were speaking earlier today,

- You intermittently snored when you slept/were sleeping last night.

- I tend to get stressed when I study/am studying for an exam.

- I usually stay up late watching TV when my wife sleeps/is sleeping. (In this sentence the intended meaning is not that I stay up late any time my wife sleeps, but that she happens to sleep at that time.)

On one hand it seems that using the past simple with "when" should be just fine since one of the definitions for "when" is "while," which would seem to fit fine in the sentences above, and yet in some cases "when" doesn't sound quite right. I'm not quite sure why though. Is it because "when" can have other meanings that create ambiguity? I know that the past continuous tense is encouraged when one event interrupts another event, but that's not really the case in these examples.

Along similar lines, can the past simple tense be used in sentences such as the following?

- I thought he played/was playing very well.

- I liked the dress you wore/were wearing last night.

- I was impressed with how he ran/was running his campaign.

Let's assume in all cases that I'm trying to communicate that the first verb (thought, liked, impressed) occurred during the same time that the second verb (played, wore, ran) occurred, not after. In other words, I thought to myself during the game that he was playing well. What is the difference between the past simple and past continuous tenses in these contexts? Does the past simple tense focus on the event as a whole while the past continuous tense focuses on an action that was occurring at a particular moment (albeit with roughly the same meaning)?

Thank you.

Hello Oliver25,

It is perfectly fine to use either the past progressive or the past simple after 'when', but there is a difference in meaning. The progressive suggests the other action took place during the first (after it started and before it finished), while the simple form suggests the action took place at the same time. For example:

I cooked the meal when/while she was taking a bath. [she was in the bath when I did the cooking]

 

I cooked the meal when she took a bath. [her taking the bath was the signal for me to start cooking]

 

In many contexts, such as some of yours, the distinction is minimal, but I think the principle holds nevertheless.

 

With regard to your second question, the progressive form implies an incomplete action:

I thought he played well last night (the whole match).

 

I thought he was playing well last night (in the part I saw / up to a certain point / but then...)

 

Certain contexts make the distinction all but meaningless, such as your second example, where a time reference (...you were wearing at 7.00) would be needed for the distinction to be clear.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

good day.
You won't be making much money in this new job.
you won't make much money in this new job
why is the second one wrong? there isn't a specific time so I don't know why we have to use the future continues.

Hello andreus1999,

The second sentence is not wrong; both forms can be used here.

There is not a great change in meaning in this context but there is a difference in emphasis. The continuous form (won't be making) describes the situation that the person wil be in while doing the job. The simple form (won't make) focuses on the result of doing the job.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello
is this tense correct? : Dany is standing on the table.

Hell Abdel El,

The verb in your sentence is correctly formed and describes what Dany is doing right now. I assume that it is correctly used, but of course I can't say that for sure without knowing what the context is and what you want to say.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
Why Present Continuous is used in the examples: "I hate the way he is always criticising me"; "What time is he arriving next Friday?".
Thanks a lot!

Hi skywalker1,

The present continuous can be used to express annoyance. When we use it this way, we often also use the word 'always' -- this is the way it is used in the first sentence you ask about.

In the second sentence, the present continuous is used to speak about a future plan that has already been arranged. For more on this use, please see our Future plans and Talking about the future pages.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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