a man stood/was standing by the door

Sidjanga

Senior Member
German;southern tendencies
Hi all,

I am almost sure I once knew the reason for this, yet I don't see it any more now.
This sentence at least seems to contradict all logic and rules behind the usual use of simple past and past progressive, respectively.

Is it just some literary means to use the simple past (stood) here?
Would was standing by the door in any way change the meaning or connotations?

"They walked along to a room, dimly lit, hazy with cigarette smoke, and filled with empty, staring faces. A man stood by the door aimlessly cleaning his gun. "Is this what you want?" The woman asked. Skinner nodded, and she scuttled off back to the bar."
(source)

Thanks.
 
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  • curlyboy20

    Senior Member
    Peruvian Spanish.
    "A man stood by the door" seems to better fit in that context as opposed to "A man was standing by the door" since his action didn't really get interrupted by the woman.

    "A man was standing by the door aimlessly cleaning his gun when the woman asked, "Is this what you want?" is what I would say.
     

    Sidjanga

    Senior Member
    German;southern tendencies
    "A man stood by the door" seems to better fit in that context as opposed to "A man was standing by the door" since his action didn't really get interrupted by the woman. (...)
    Thank you, curlyboy.

    But that actually didn't seem to be the case with quite a few other examples I saw where they used was standing either.
     

    espider

    Senior Member
    English
    This is one of those cases where style/custom and practice override strict grammatical considerations. "Stood" definitely sounds more positive, dramatic, deliberate in this context; "was standing" somehow sounds more casual, although of course the intention is to make it sound as if the guy cleaning a gun was a casual, nonchalent almost everyday action.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The English simple past tense, stood in this case, can double up as an imperfect with descriptive force, like was standing, and can even carry some of those other imperfect meanings like habitual or repeated action (would stand, or used to stand).

    A variety of considerations determine an Englishman's choice between stood and was standing, it seems to me. For me stood used like this is a little more literary - more suitable perhaps for the written than the spoken language, and suggests that the speaker want to make an effect, wants to paint a scene in a particular way.

    It seems to me that I am agreeing entirely with Espider. I'm just being a bit more long-winded about it.
     
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