Last night I <ate> <was eating> dinner

kenny4528

Senior Member
Mandarin, Taiwan
Hi, dear all

1. Last night at 6 PM, I ate dinner.
I started eating at 6 PM.
2. Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
I started earlier; and at 6 PM, I was in the process of eating dinner.

These two examples come from here.
I have a doubt in my mind that in the first example, does the action of eating really start at 6 PM sharp? Can't simple past mean the action of eating could start before 6 PM?

Many thanks.
 
  • Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    1. Definitely means the person took his first bite at 6 PM. He probably didn't take too long eating, either.
    2. At 6 PM, he was eating dinner but he could've been eating before that. It also could mean that he started eating at 6 PM. This one is less specific. It just means that eating is what he was doing at that time.

    This reminds me of the passe compose and the imparfait in French.
     

    kenny4528

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan
    1. Definitely means the person took his first bite at 6 PM. He probably didn't take too long eating, either.
    2. At 6 PM, he was eating dinner but he could've been eating before that. It also could mean that he started eating at 6 PM. This one is less specific.

    This reminds me of the passe compose and the imparfait in French.
    Thanks. So, as in ''Last night at 6 PM, I ate dinner.'', the eating couldn't start at 5 PM, or even earlier. Right?
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Ahh sorry! I thought you meant for me to look at what you had in red. I don't know why I did it for the first and not the second.

    1. Doesn't have to mean that eating started at exactly 6 PM, but if he didn't, he started around that time. Definitely not at 5 PM.
     

    tomandjerryfan

    Senior Member
    English (Canada)
    Last night, at 6 pm, I ate dinner.
    I started eating dinner at 6 o'clock. The action started and finished at a specific time before the present.

    Last night, at 6 pm, I was eating dinner.
    I may have started at 6 o'clock or before. I was still eating at 6 o'clock and I could have finished any time before the present.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    1. Last night at 6 PM, I ate dinner.
    I started eating at 6 PM and finished in the past.

    2. Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
    I started earlier, and at 6 PM I was in the process of eating dinner.


    Here are some more examples to illustrate the difference:

    3. Last night at 6 PM, I took a pill.
    I started and finished taking the pill at 6 PM.

    4. Last night at 6 PM, I was watching a movie.
    6 PM found me in the process of watching a movie, already in progress.

    5. When you called, I ate dinner.
    At the moment you called, I started eating dinner and I finished in the past.

    6. While I talked with you, I ate dinner.
    During the time I was talking to you, I started and finished eating dinner. I finished both the talking and the eating in the past.

    7. As I talked with you, I ate dinner.
    During the time I was talking to you, I was also eating dinner. I finished both the talking and the eating in the past. [As coordinates the two actions a little more than while.]

    8. When you called, I was eating dinner.
    At the moment you called, I was in the process of eating dinner. (No implication about when or if I finished)

    9. While/as I talked with you, I was eating dinner.
    During the time I was talking to you, I was also eating dinner. (No implication about when or if I finished)
     
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