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  1. #1
    Verona_82 is offline Senior Member
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    simple vs continuous 2

    Hello,

    The book I'm using insists on choosing between the simple and continuous tenses, saying that only one of them is possible. However, I believe both alternatives work (if proper context is given). I'd be very grateful if somebody could take a look at the sentences and my comments in brackets and comment.

    1. Last week I studied Chinese (Studying Chinese is my hobby. Last week I had some free time, so I opened the coursebook, read some rules, did some exercises and closed the book. That was a finished act of studying)
    Last week I was studying Chinese (imagine me reading grammar books and doing exercises)

    2. I learned these words but I remember only a small part of the list (it seemed to me I learned all of them but now I see I should have learned them better)
    I was learning these words but I remember only a small part of the list (imagine me doing word usage exercises. Now I see they didn't help me memorize the words)

    3. Last month he worked on his new detective novel (he started and finished working last month, and he managed to complete the novel in a month)
    Last month he was working on his new detective novel (he's writing a novel, and he spent last month working on it. He didn't finish it last month)


    Thank you!

  2. #2
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    Hello,

    The book I'm using insists on choosing between the simple and continuous tenses, saying that only one of them is possible.
    What exactly does your book say? Does it perchance say that only one is possible in a given context?

  3. #3
    Verona_82 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    No. It gives no context and it says that, for example, "I was studying Chinese...." is correct and the past simple is incorrect here. That's why I've provided some context - it's really stupid trying to guess what the authors had in mind.
    Last edited by Verona_82; 26-Apr-2011 at 21:56. Reason: typos

  4. #4
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    No. It gives no context and it says that, for example, "I was studying Chinese...." is correct and the past simple is incorrect here. That's why I've provided some context - it's really stupid trying to guess what the authors had in mind.
    Once again, what exactly does it say.

    "I studied Chinese" means you did some systematic attempt to learn it be it by going to class, reading books, etc.

    "When I was an undergrad I studied Latin." "In my research I studied the effect of alcohol on turtles."

    "I was studying Chinese" can mean you were doing your Chinese homework.

    So no they aren't interchangeable.

    1. Last week I studied Chinese (Studying Chinese is my hobby. Last week I had some free time, so I opened the coursebook, read some rules, did some exercises and closed the book. That was a finished act of studying)
    Last week I was studying Chinese (imagine me reading grammar books and doing exercises)

    "Last week I studied Chinese" is strange unless you say something like "Last week I studied Chinese but I got bored with it rather quickly so now I switched to studying Japanese". If you mean you were doing homework, you'd say "was studying".

  5. #5
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    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    You are right that both forms are very often possible - given the right context. I agree with your suggestions for #1 and #3, but do not find that for #2 totally satisfactory. I'll come back later if nobody else comments first - I have to leave now.

  6. #6
    Verona_82 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    "Last week I studied Chinese" is strange unless you say something like "Last week I studied Chinese but I got bored with it rather quickly so now I switched to studying Japanese". If you mean you were doing homework, you'd say "was studying".
    I've heard native speakers say " I studied" when they were responding to "What did you do at the weeked?". I really don't get it why it cannot be extended to "I studied Chinese last week".

  7. #7
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    I've heard native speakers say " I studied" when they were responding to "What did you do at the weeked?". I really don't get it why it cannot be extended to "I studied Chinese last week".

    I'm sure fivejedjon will have a perfectly awesome answer for you.

  8. #8
    5jj's Avatar
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    I'm sure fivejedjon will have a perfectly awesome answer for you.
    Flattery will get you everywhere.

    Verona: The book I'm using insists on choosing between the simple and continuous tenses, saying that only one of them is possible.
    5: Rubbish! (The book, not you). I can naturally say either, "I was answering some questions on UE yesterday evening", or, " I answered some questions on UE yesterday evening". They do not mean exactly the same, but that's irrelevant - they are both possible.

    Verona: However, I believe both alternatives work (if proper context is given).
    5: You are right.

    Verona: I've heard native speakers say " I studied" when they were responding to "What did you do at the weeke
    nd?". I really don't get (it) why it cannot be extended to "I studied Chinese last week".
    5: Stop worrying. It can.
    Actually, it's not a brilliant example, because of the choice of verb. It's perfectly OK to say, "I studied Chinese (when I was) at university", or "I studied Chinese for four years", but it's probably more natural to say, "I worked at/revised (my) Chinese last week. Grammatically, however, there is nothing at all wrong with your sentence.


    (When I worked in China, I noticed that Chinese students tended to say, "I studied" when British students would be more likely to say, "I did my/some homework" or "I revised". Similarly, Chinese students (17-20) said, "We played", when British students might say, "We chilled out/hung out/relaxed/did nothing/etc". But that has nothing to do with tenses.)

    I am going to look at your original three sentences now. Back soon.

  9. #9
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Back to your original three, with some revision of my first response:

    Verona: 1a. Last week I studied Chinese.
    Last week I was studying Chinese.
    5: I agree with freezeframe's comments; see also my comments in my last post.

    Without more context, #1b is a more natural utterance than #1a. This is largely to do with choice of lexis. With different verbs, there is no difficulty. I can say either, "I was answering questions on usingenglish last night", or, "I answered questions on usingenglish last night". The meaning is slightly different, but that is irrelevant. Both are possible.

    Verona: 2a. I learned these words but I remember only a small part of the list (it seemed to me I learned all of them but now I see I should have learned them better)
    2b. I was learning these words but I remember only a small part of the list (imagine me doing word usage exercises. Now I see they didn't help me memorize the words)
    5: These are not very good examples for the point you are making. If you learnt [BrE spelling] the words (#2a), then you would remember them. For the situation you describe, we are more likely to say, "I thought I (had) learnt these words ....".

    Better examples would be:

    2c.
    I learnt the words last night. - I read them, recited them, wrote them down, and tested myself. Then, having fixed them in my mind, I stopped.
    2d. I was learning the words last night. - I was engaged in the activities of reading, reciting, writing and testing. Whether or not I fixed the words in my mind is unclear
    .

    Verona: 3a. Last month he worked on his new detective novel (he started and finished working last month, and he managed to complete the novel in a month)
    3b.Last month he was working on his new detective novel (he's writing a novel, and he spent last month working on it. He didn't finish it last month)
    5. You are definitely on the right lines but, once again, your choice of verb has meant that you are not exactly right. If he worked on his novel last month (#3a), he did not necessarily complete the writing of the novel. Better for your point would be:

    3c. Last month he wrote his new detective novel. - He started and finished writing last month; he managed to complete the novel in a month.
    3b.Last month he was writing his new detective novel. - He spent last month writing. He didn't necessarily complete th e novel last month.

  10. #10
    Verona_82 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: simple vs continuous 2

    Fivejedjohn, that was a really awesome answer (no flattery intended! ) Thank you and freezeframe for the time you spent on replying to my post. And your patience I can imagine HOW many times you explained the simple/progressive difference to students and learners.

    Your post helped me see why "I was learning these words" is a better alternative. #2 is clear to me now.

    I do also understand why "I was studying Chinese last month" is a more natural utterance. However, upon reading your comments on #1 I became uncertain about reacting to one's innocent "What did you do last night?" "I was studying [English]", I guess It's the discrepancy in the question/answer tenses that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

    The difference between wrote/was writing a novel (#3) is also clear to me. I do understand what "I was working on my novel" implies, but I did't get which alternative "worked/was working' you considered preferable. I think you meant both of them were fine, and it was just my comments in brackets that weren't convincing enough. Now I see why.

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