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Hello,
I found the following examples in an English grammar book:

When we mention two actions that went on at the same time, we can use the past continuous in both clauses.

[1] Debbie was washing her hair while Tim was tidying up the flat.

We can also use the past simple for either or hoth of the actions.

[2] Debbie washed her hair while Tim was tidying up the flat.
[3] Debbie was washing her hair while Tim tidied up the flat.
[4] Debbie washed her hair while Tim tidied up the flat.
[The numbering is mine.]

We gather from this writing that the author meant to say that the four examples ([1] through [4]) are equivalent in meaning, i.e. the two actions of hair-washing and tidying up the flat went on roughly at the same time.

However, I disagree that these four are equivalent. I believe that only [1] and [4], where the same tenses are used for the two actions, can be used to express two actions going on roughly at the same time without meaning to imply their relative duration.

When different tenses are used, as in [2] and [3], the implication of one action happening entirely within the other action can't be ignored, hence a different meaning from sentences without such an implication.

Generally speaking, when the past tense and the past continuous (aka progressive) are used together, the implication is that the past tense action occurs entirely within the past continuous action.

Therefore, [2] and [3] imply that the tidying up began and finished all during Debbie's hair-washing.

In conclusion, I believe the four sentences aren't equal in meaning and the author unfortunately glossed over this nuance, if one can call it a nuance, perhaps due to the fact that the book is a "learner's grammar".

I'd like to hear your opinions on this. Thanks in advance!
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AnonymousI'd like to hear your opinions on this.
AnonymousTherefore, [2] and [3] imply that the tidying up began and finished all during Debbie's hair-washing.
I think it's more ambiguous than that. It seems to me that you could say that only [3] implies that, and that [2] implies that the hair-washing began and finished during the tidying up.

The presence of "while" forces an imperfective (or 'continuous') reading on the following verb even if it's not in a continuous tense.
________

If you have an achievement verb in the simple past in this kind of pattern, your point takes on more force because such actions "don't have much time" in which to finish:

Joe fell and broke his arm while his mother was making pancakes.

In other words, I think the relative amounts of time that the two actions typically take plays into the interpretation.
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As you say, these are nuances, and to say that, from a less nuanced viewpoint, all four are equivalent is not that far from the truth. I don't recommend losing sleep over it! Emotion: smile

CJ
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CJ:

Thanks! I see your point on the ambiguity, for these verbs are not the achievement types of verbs. I knew in my mind that [2] and [3] are not really the same, but went on to ignore that for simplicity's sake. In some sense, your pointing out of the nuances and ambiguities already proved to me that these four aren't the same, if we take all possible nuances and implicatures into consideration.

I would at least say that in order to avoid causing over-interpretation and unintended implication in the listener's mind, I would avoid using [2] and [3], and stick to [1] and [4], i.e. using the same verb patterns for hair-washing and tidying up, if I simply want to say that the washing and cleaning went on roughly about the same time and that it didn't matter which action started/ended earlier. Would you do the same?
Anonymous[1] Debbie was washing her hair while Tim was tidying up the flat.We can also use the past simple for either or hoth of the actions.[2] Debbie washed her hair while Tim was tidying up the flat.[3] Debbie was washing her hair while Tim tidied up the flat.[4] Debbie washed her hair while Tim tidied up the flat.
I may be wrong, but I think the pattern of # 1 ( past progressive)/ past progressive) and # 4 ( simple past / simple past) are semantically and temporally perplexing. This is my take on this particular "while" construction. We use this pattern to illustrate the temporal relationship between two events. The "while" clause,as a rule, is applied to the event with these two criteria: 1) First occurred . 2) with lengthier time of the two event. For examples:
While I was waiting in line at the bank, I ran into my high school buddy Robbie today. - This past progressive/ simple past construction demonstrated clear semantics and temporal connection between the events. No interpretation is necessary.

Of the four sentences, I think # 2 has the best clarity.

AnonymousI would at least say that in order to avoid causing over-interpretation and unintended implication in the listener's mind, I would avoid using [2] and [3], and stick to [1] and [4], i.e. using the same verb patterns for hair-washing and tidying up, if I simply want to say that the washing and cleaning went on roughly about the same time and that it didn't matter which action started/ended earlier. Would you do the same?
No. I'd probably throw the whole lot at the students and wait and see whether there were any questions. I would only get into the subtleties if pressed.

Emotion: smile
CJ
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