Hi, Jim. I'd like you to answer this question.

I had been reading a book for half an hour when they dropped in .

Do you think it's possible to change the past perfect to the simple past without changing the meaning?

I was reading a book for half an hour when they dropped in .
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Takawithout changing the meaning?
No. The second version doesn't even sound right to me! Drop the for-phrase and it's OK.

CJ
So these have the same meaning that until they dropped in, the person had been reading the book?

I had been reading a book when they dropped in .

I was reading a book when they dropped in .
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TakaSo these have the same meaning that until they dropped in, the person had been reading the book?
... can have the same meaning.

was reading when ... - the action of reading definitely was in progress when they dropped in.

had been reading when .. - the action of reading could have been in progress when they dropped in,

or it could have been in progress earlier and then stopped before they dropped in.

__________________

For example, supposing I want to tell the story of how my neighbors dropped in just as I was swimming in my backyard pool. Focusing on myself in the water when this happened, I can retell this later as either of these:

I was swimming when the neighbors dropped in.

I had been swimming when the neighbors dropped in.

But suppose I had finished swimming, dried myself with a towel, and had come into the house. At that point my neighbors dropped in. Focusing on myself sitting in my home, my hair still a little damp from the swim, I can retell this as:

I had been swimming when the neighbors dropped in.

But NOT as:

I was swimming when the neighbors dropped in.

___________________

It's exactly analogous to the present-point-of-view statements.

If my neighbors come through the gate to the backyard, and I'm in the pool at the time, I can say, "I'm swimming" or "I've been swimming". But if they come to the front door when I'm already out of the pool and in the house, I can say, "I've been swimming", but NOT "I'm swimming".

The fact that I've been swimming continues to be true even after the statement "I'm swimming" becomes false.

CJ
CalifJim... can have the same meaning.
Good explanation, as always.

Now JIm, tell me. If they can have the same meaning, why adding 'for half an hour' would make the past progressive version sound wrong when they both have the sense of continuance and 'for+time' gives the information about the duration of time?
Takawhy adding 'for half an hour' would make the past progressive version sound wrong
For the same reason that we don't say I'm reading for half an hour to indicate current activity. Yes, we can say that with a future meaning, as in I'm reading for half an hour [this afternoon / tonight / tomorrow], (though even that is unusual). But we can't say it to mean that it's happening now. In other words, in answer to What are you doing (just now)? we don't say I'm reading for half an hour. We say I'm reading.

The reason is that the present continuous and its analog, the past continuous, portray open time periods. There is no beginning or end to open time periods. It's a matter of action in progress, with no thought of when it began or when it will end. A phrase like for half an hour implies a beginning and an end, so it contradicts the open time period conveyed by the present or past continuous.

The present and past perfect continuous do not represent open time periods. They have end points, so their use with a for time phrase is not contradictory, and thus not objectionable.

[I've / I'd] been reading for half an hour.

CJ
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Aside CJ's comments, this is my opinion. Past Perfect is used to contrast two past eventshappened sometime ago which syntactically need to make grammatical and present sense.

To me, " I was reading a book when they dropped in..." simply paints a picture of a recent past event, perhaps, last night or this morning. It's sufficient and requires no past perfect.

This is what I would say "past perfect" is correcet and not the simple past progressive.

I had met and dated Mary for a year before I married Susan who is my wife.

" I had been reading a book for half hour when they droipped in " just sounds not quite right.
CalifJimFor the same reason that we don't say I'm reading for half an hour to indicate current activity.CJ
However, aside from the past vs the past perfect problem for a moment, Jim, 'I lived in the city for a year and a half', for example, sounds perfectly natural, although we don't say 'I live for a year and a half', right?
While you are waiting for Jim's reply, I would say, " I lived in the city for a year and a half"

it's not a correct sentence. You need present perfect with "for" in the sentence. Or "

I had lived in the city for a year and a half before I moved to the suburb in 2008.
Taka'I lived in the city for a year and a half', for example, sounds perfectly natural, although we don't say 'I live for a year and a half', right?
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