didn't play/weren't playing

Ivan_I

Senior Member
Russian
Which one is the better?

Why didn't you play roles in movies for a long time?
Why weren't you playing roles in movies for a long time?
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    These are ambiguous sentences, with unclear meanings. This is a well-known problem in English. It is tricky to say someone "did not do something" + "for a long time". You can perform an action for a long time. But what does it mean to "not perform an action" for a long time?

    It could mean at least 2 different things:

    (1) You avoided doing that action (and continued avoiding it for a long time)
    (2) A long time occurred, during which time you did not perform the action

    Those are different meanings. A native speaker will say one or the other, but will not say an ambiguous sentence. So we might ask:

    1. Why did you turn down all movie roles for a long time?

    2. Why was there such a long gap between your movie roles?
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It could mean at least 2 different things:
    (1) You avoided doing that action (and continued avoiding it for a long time)
    (2) A long time occurred, during which time you did not perform the action
    I think you mean 1 means "A person deliberately didn't do something for a long time"
    2 means "A person happened not to be doing it for a long time but not because of their own unwillingness."

    Still, it's not very clear to me which tense to use with "for a long time".
    I lived in Italy for a long time.
    I was living in Italy for a long time.

    I didn't play in movies for a long time.
    I wasn't playing in movies for a long time.

    Maybe there must be some context for each?

    I was living in Italy for a long time when I was younger.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I lived in Italy for a long time. :tick:
    I was living in Italy for a long time. :tick:

    Both sentences are correct, and they have the same meaning.

    I didn't play in movies for a long time.:confused:
    I wasn't playing in movies for a long time. :confused:

    Both sentences are unclear, ambiguous and confusing. In English, you should not use sentences like these.

    This is what I said in post #2. It is a well-known problem in English, so native speakers avoid saying it.
     
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