all day yesterday: must use past continuous tense?

EdisonBhola

Senior Member
Korean
My son's teacher taught him that whenever he sees phrases like "all day yesterday", "all morning yesterday" or "all morning last week", use past continuous tense. Everything else is wrong. For example:

Peter ______ (study) all day yesterday.

Because of the expression "all day yesterday", the only correct answer is "was studying" and not just "studied". Is there any truth to his teacher's teaching?
 
  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Personally, I can't see anything wrong with 'Peter studied all day yesterday', or for instance, 'It rained all day last Tuesday'. They sound perfectly natural.
     

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Is there any difference in meaning between "Peter was studying all day yesterday" and "Peter studied all day yesterday"?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    No. The selection of the tense is secondary to the time based modifier "all day yesterday" - both are acceptable but the duration is specified by the modifier not the tense.
     

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    No. The selection of the tense is secondary to the time based modifier "all day yesterday" - both are acceptable but the duration is specified by the modifier not the tense.
    I'm sorry my English is very limited. I don't understand what is the meaning of "The selection of the tense is secondary to the time based modifier "all day yesterday".
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    If I may presume to state JulianStuart's remark in simpler terms:
    The important part of the sentence is "all day yesterday". The choice between simple past and past continuous tense for the verb is not so important.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Would "was lying" make you feel that the emphasis is on duration?
    It is not clear what you are suggesting. If he was lying all day yesterday, he was telling untruths all day; that means he was speaking constantly. If you mean he was "lying down" (in bed , for example) all day yesterday, it's the same as the others. The use of "all day yesterday" is what emphasizes the duration.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The English simple past can act in the same way as the imperfect of many romance languages, to describe a continuous action in the past.

    1. Peter studied all day yesterday is perfectly correct English.

    Does it mean the same thing as 2. Peter was studying all day yesterday? I'd say there are contexts in which it means very much the same, and other contexts where the simple past of 1. gives the sentence an eventive force absent from 2. In a list of the things which Peter has done recently, for instance, 1. would probably be preferred to 2.

    I'm very cautious about reports of what teachers have said in classrooms. Maybe this teacher was telling the students how he wanted the exercise completed. Telling them to use the imperfect with expressions emphasising a spread of time is not very misleading advice. Students can easily mistake a recommendation for a grammatical rule.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    As others have said, both the simple and the continuous forms are possible.
    The simple past, as Thomas Tompion indicates, puts an emphasis on the fact of what happened. The continuous form puts an emphasis on the ongoing process of the action.

    The continuous form is often used to provide a background or framework to another action (expressed in the simple past). For example:
    'Peter was studying all day yesterday. He tackled each of his tasks with determination'.

    However, I think it is true to say that the particular phrase 'all day yesterday' (as distinct from 'all day') is probably used much more often with the continuous than with the simple past.
     
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