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Past perfect continuous and past continuous

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  • Englishteacher
    Participant
    27 April, 2008 at 15:00
    • Total posts: 3

    Can anyone explain the difference between these two tenses. I have read several explanations but none of them seem quite satisfactory. For example what is the difference between saying :

    I had been eating dinner , when the doorbell rang

    and :

    I was eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    I wonder if the first emphasises the fact that you were eating dinner whereas the other emphasises the fact the doorbell rang but this again depends on subtle intonation of voice. Hmmm any ideas ?

    dan
    Moderator
    21 January, 2016 at 9:44
    • Total posts: 770

    I was eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    In this sentence, the action of the doorbell ringing interrupts the action of eating dinner. So eating dinner started at some point before the doorbell rang, and may or may not have continued after it rang (you may have stopped eating to answer the door, or ignored the doorbell and carried on eating).

    I had been eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    In this sentence we could be using past perfect continuous (I had been eating dinner) for two reasons:

    1. To put more emphasis on the action of eating dinner.

    2. To show that the action (eating) was in progress for some time and continued up to the moment, or perhaps just before, the doorbell rang.

    The doorbell ringing doesn’t necessarily interrupt the dinner as it does in the first sentence. If it does interrupt it, that’s not the most important part of the meaning.

    Hope that helps.

    Dan

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