When I met John, he had already lived/been living...

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Wasserjungfer

Senior Member
Tschechisch (Czech)
Hi all! :)

Could you tell me, what the difference is between these two sentences?

1.) When I met John, he had already lived in Brighton for 5 years.
2.) When I met John, he had already been living in Brighton for 5 years.

Thank you for your help!
 
  • Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    1) Could imply that he had also lived elsewhere - after living in Brighton, or before - i.e. that he was not necessarily living there at the time you met.
    2) Means he had moved to Brighton 5 years ago and was still there when you met.
     

    hopefultoo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Let's take a similar contrasting example which is a bit shorter and so easier to handle:

    He showed me the flat where he had lived for 20 years.
    He showed me the flat where he had been living for 20 years.

    Let's take away the reported statement. Did he originally say:

    A."I have lived in this flat for 20 years" or B."I lived in this flat for 20 years?" If A he still lives there. If B he lived there for 20 years at some time in the past. Both of these are reported as "He had lived there for 20 years."

    If he originally said "I have been living here for 20 years" then he evidently still lives there. This is reported as "He had been living there for 20 years" and is preferable to avoid confusion.

    It is usually taught that A. "He has lived here for 20 years" and B. "He has been living here for 20 years" mean the same thing, and they very nearly always do. However, if he is on the very point of leaving his flat but has not left yet then it is only possible to say A.

    To say any more we'd have to go into more detail about the difference between simple and continuous tenses.
     

    Ultramarine

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian
    Thank you, hopefultoo, for such a detailed explanation! I do still find it a bit confusing as the original sentences in your post don't use reported speech. It's a bit unclear when he showed the flat to me - a long time ago, which might mean we have no information where he dwells now - or, say, a couple of hours go, which makes it possible to use present tenses 'has lived' or 'has been living' (am I right?) Since there is no context, we can conclude it's safer to talk about the past, and so we end up with either 'had lived' or 'had been living'.
     

    exgerman

    Senior Member
    NYC
    English but my first language was German
    Had lived is a simple statement of fact. Meeting is an instantaneous activity, so there is no need for a continuous verb form. We say had been living if somewhere in the context there is another continuous activity mentioned or assumed.

    When I met him he had lived in Brighton for 5 years.

    When I met him he had been living in Brighton for 5 years and playing second fiddle in the orchestra there,
     

    hopefultoo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Thank you, hopefultoo, for such a detailed explanation! I do still find it a bit confusing as the original sentences in your post don't use reported speech. It's a bit unclear when he showed the flat to me - a long time ago, which might mean we have no information where he dwells now - or, say, a couple of hours go, which makes it possible to use present tenses 'has lived' or 'has been living' (am I right?) Since there is no context, we can conclude it's safer to talk about the past, and so we end up with either 'had lived' or 'had been living'.
    OK - I wrote this quite late at night, and originally in reply to another post. the original sentences should read:

    He showed me the flat where he he said had lived for 20 years.
    He showed me the flat where he said he had been living for 20 years.

    It doesn't matter when he showed the flat to me, recently of a long time ago - the situation being referred to is the situation at the time he spoke. Your last sentence seems to be a little strange - I suggest you read my explanation carefully once more.
     

    hopefultoo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Had lived is a simple statement of fact. Meeting is an instantaneous activity, so there is no need for a continuous verb form. We say had been living if somewhere in the context there is another continuous activity mentioned or assumed.

    When I met him he had lived in Brighton for 5 years.

    When I met him he had been living in Brighton for 5 years and playing second fiddle in the orchestra there,
    I'm afraid your explanation is simply incorrect - no other continuous activity is assumed or need be mentioned.
     

    Ultramarine

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian
    Thank you! Does anything change if we assume there is no reported speech in the sentences but there is a relative clause introduced by 'where'? I don't think my last sentence sounds strange in the light of this fact.
     

    hopefultoo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Thank you! Does anything change if we assume there is no reported speech in the sentences but there is a relative clause introduced by 'where'? I don't think my last sentence sounds strange in the light of this fact.
    It's all about the tenses used. It's important to grasp the meaning of the present perfect tense and to understand how it differs from the past tense and the present simple, in particular. Unfortunately, since the ideas behind the present perfect (and its continuous form) are rather subtle they are poorly (and sometimes erroneously) handled in many grammar books. I teach these tenses regularly - it usually takes about 2 weeks with upper intermediate or advanced students to undo the damage done by previous misconceptions and replace these with a reasonable understanding of how they should be used.
     
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