The Good Grammar Book says that "we use simple past to talk about a complete action", but many other sources give examples like this:
I was playing football all day yesterday.
It sounds that the action of playing football is a complete one in this example, but in this case it contradicts the rule cited about. Is the rule wrong or it does not apply to the example by some reasons?
21 September, 2010 at 11:41
Total posts: 773
Reply To: past progressive for a complete action
I was playing football all day yesterday
The meaning of the past progressive here is that the action was in progress at every moment of a period of time in the past.
As the period of time (yesterday) is finished, this normally means of course that the action is also finished.
However, the context and the language around this particular utterance are important here. Reading the utterance in isolation and without a context, there is nothing to give us any further information. If we add something like this:
I was playing football all day yesterday and I’m playing all day today as well. I’m going to be tired tonight!
I couldn’t call you yesterday because I was playing football all day.
…we can start to see why the past progressive was chosen. In the first case I think we want to convey the idea that it was a long (and therefore tiring) action; in the second case it is a longer background action in progress at the time that the second action (in the past simple) happened (or in this case didn’t happen!)