Past continuous vs past simple. Parallel actions

Poland91pl

Senior Member
Polish
Hello. Where I live we are taught that when you want to talk about two past actions which had the same duration you use the past continuous " I was reading while my mum was cooking "

But when there are 2 actions and 1 of the is shorter,kind of interrupts the longer one then the shorter uses the past simple " I was working in the garden when I heard a noise "

Recently I learned that it isn't true and you CAN use the past simple and the past continuous for 2 actions that had the same duration but the one in the past simple is more important "I took notes while I was listening to the lecture "

Is this true ?
What is the real difference between " I took notes while I was listening to the lecture "and " I was taking notes while I was listening to the lecture "?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Is this true ?
    Yes.

    What is the real difference between " I took notes while I was listening to the lecture "and " I was taking notes while I was listening to the lecture "?
    There isn't any real difference in meaning. There is a slight difference in the writer's point of view. In the second version, taking notes and listening to the lecture are given equal importance and described with continuous tenses. In the first version, the past simple seems to indicate that taking notes was foremost in the writer's mind. Listening to the lecture was viewed as an ongoing activity that took place at the same time.
     

    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Yes.

    There isn't any real difference in meaning. There is a slight difference in the writer's point of view. In the second version, taking notes and listening to the lecture are given equal importance and described with continuous tenses. In the first version, the past simple seems to indicate that taking notes was foremost in the writer's mind. Listening to the lecture was viewed as an ongoing activity that took place at the same time.
    So for you in "I took the notes while I was listening to the lecture " the first clause "I took the notes is in progress and unfinished "?
     

    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    C
    Yes.

    There isn't any real difference in meaning. There is a slight difference in the writer's point of view. In the second version, taking notes and listening to the lecture are given equal importance and described with continuous tenses. In the first version, the past simple seems to indicate that taking notes was foremost in the writer's mind. Listening to the lecture was viewed as an ongoing activity that took place at the same time.
    Can I say " I read a book while my mum was cooking "meaning that I was reading just a little fragment of it ?
     

    Chez

    Senior Member
    English English
    You can say it meaning you were reading the whole time your mother was cooking (in the same way as 'I took notes while I was listening to the lecture).

    I don't understand what you mean by 'reading a little fragment of the book'. You would have to clarify that if you wanted to say it e.g:

    I read two sentences/a chapter/10 pages of the book while my mum was cooking.
     

    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    You can say it meaning you were reading the whole time your mother was cooking (in the same way as 'I took notes while I was listening to the lecture).

    I don't understand what you mean by 'reading a little fragment of the book'. You would have to clarify that if you wanted to say it e.g:

    I read two sentences/a chapter/10 pages of the book while my mum was cooking.
    All i wanted to say was I didn't read the whole book just a little. Can I still say " I read the book while my mum was cooking "? Or if someone asks me " what did you do yesterday " can I reply " I read a book- I know I read a few pages every day " even though I didn't read the whole book but just a couple of pages because the book is extremely thick?
     

    tunaafi

    Senior Member
    English - British (Southern England)
    We'd normally just say 'I read' if we were reading a book. If it wasn't a book, we might specify, for example, "I read the (news)paper/a magazine'.
     

    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    This really doesn't tell your listener anything about how much of the book that you read.
    So "I read the book "doesn't necessarily mean that I read the whole book or that I finished doing it so basically I can say both
    1. Yesterday at 5 o'clock I was reading / read the book - with no difference in meaning ?

    Grammar books say that we use the past continuous for the action that was not complete at a past time..... " I took notes " isn't here complete either.... so I was taking notes seems better but now you say that I can use past simple for incomplete actions :D I am so so so confused right now :(:(;(
     

    tunaafi

    Senior Member
    English - British (Southern England)
    "I read the book" would normally mean that I read the whole book, but it does not necessarily mean that,

    Grammar books give guidelines about normal usage. There are very few unbreakable 'rules' in English grammar. These guidelines can be very useful indeed, but learners should not be surprised if native speakers say and write things that are not in accordance with them.
     

    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    "I read the book" would normally mean that I read the whole book, but it does not necessarily mean that,

    Grammar books give guidelines about normal usage. There are very few unbreakable 'rules' in English grammar. These guidelines can be very useful indeed, but learners should not be surprised if native speakers say and write things that are not in accordance with them.
    what did you do yesterday?
    So i should reply - I was reading a book ? ( because I didn't read the whole book )?
     

    Dashakol

    New Member
    Persian
    There isn't any real difference in meaning. There is a slight difference in the writer's point of view. In the second version, taking notes and listening to the lecture are given equal importance and described with continuous tenses. In the first version, the past simple seems to indicate that taking notes was foremost in the writer's mind. Listening to the lecture was viewed as an ongoing activity that took place at the same time.
    So this sounds normal to you? I heard it from a native speaker on ESLpod.
    "When I was growing up, my mother did all of the cooking in our house"
    Wouldn't it sound more native if it was:
    "When I was growing up, my mother used to do all of the cooking in our house"
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I agree with Teddy regarding the sentence that you asked about, Dashakol. Both versions sound normal. In that sentence, the different tenses don't express any significant difference in the speaker's point of view.
     

    Dashakol

    New Member
    Persian
    No. Neither version is more natural than the other.
    I agree with Teddy... Both versions sound normal.
    Thanks, it's very nice to get relieved and get answered when your mind is occupied by such questions. But I recently came across the Krashen's natural approach and "language acquisition" vs "language learning" and it got me thinking that if I was not taught the traditional way, probably such questions wouldn't even come up in the first place and I wouldn't bother to check everything up in my mind with those "learned" grammar rules. Don't yo agree?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Don't you agree?
    I do. Many people don't start learning foreign languages until long after they have already passed through the miraculous stage of natural language acquisition that occurs when they are babies. Doubts about grammar and usage are probably inherent in the task of learning languages later in your life.
     
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