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In my language there are two types (among others) of past:
1. the one that happened once, like "I had lunch at McDonald's yesterday".
2. the one that shows repeated actions in the past

In the first one you use simple past, but in the second one...
1) Do you use would+infinitive? I would stare out my window. (repeated actions in the past)
2) Or you use simple past? I stared out my window. (in this case, repeated actions in the past and not something that happened once in the past)
3) Or you use both - are they interchangeable?
4) Or you can use both, but in different situations - in this case, how do I decide which one to use?

Thank you in advance.
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In my language there are two types (among others) of past:
1. the one that happened once, like "I had lunch at McDonald's yesterday".
2. the one that shows repeated actions in the past

In the first one you use simple past, but in the second one...
1) Do you use would+infinitive? I would stare out my window. (repeated actions in the past) Yes and you can use "used to" for some situations too.
2) Or you use simple past? I stared out my window. (in this case, repeated actions in the past and not something that happened once in the past) I don't understnad this sentence as a repeated action. Emotion: smile
3) Or you use both - are they interchangeable?
4) Or you can use both, but in different situations - in this case, how do I decide which one to use?

3 and 4 : If you want to emphasize a repeated action either use "would" or "used to".
As a footnote:

You can use the simple past to express a repeated action if you supplement the verb with an appropriate adverbial phrase, e.g.

1. Every day, I stared out of my window.

Best wishes,

MrP
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Yeah! I forgot to add it but dear Mr. Pedantic [L] solved everyhing. Emotion: big smile
Ok, so you CAN'T use simple past to show a repeated action in the past? (unless you put "every day" or something similar)
Oh, I think you can, at least for some actions that are obviously habitual: When I was a boy, I brushed my teeth and combed my hair before school.
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Good example MM, but I think the context help us comment it as a habitual action or else it wouldn't give us the meaning of a habitual action if I made a sentence as follows:

I combed my hair after I had a shower yesterday. Emotion: smile
That's not my point, Doll. My point is that some actions are generally considered habitual, so do not require the time reference. It does not preclude at all the possibility of considering it as a single activity when appropriate.
Ok, so you CAN'T use simple past to show a repeated action in the past?
No. Not true at all. The idea is that you need context to create the situation in which the exact aspect of the simple past is known. This is true whether the simple past (or any other tense, for that matter) is used to express a single action or a habitual action. This context can come from an adverbial within the same sentence, a completely different sentence (or several) which precedes, the entire conversational context, or even just the physical context in which the simple past is uttered.

In the context of a kitchen where you see chopped onions on the counter.

-- How's dinner coming along?
-- Well, I chopped the onions. Now I have to get the sauce ready.


In the context of a conversation at a party concerning how you and your wife used to prepare a certain dish.

-- How did you and your wife use to divide up the tasks when you were working together on the preparation?
-- Well, I chopped the onions. My wife got the sauce ready. We usually managed to coordinate everything pretty well even though we had a very small kitchen. Fortunately, we have more room in our new kitchen.

Note the same sentence in two contexts. In the first case, the onions were chopped once on one occasion. In the second case, the preparations, such as the chopping of the onions, were habitual. They happened every time the dish was prepared. Only in the second case can you substitute I used to chop the onions or I would chop the onions.

CJ
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