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Hi

1. Yesterday I played tennis/ Yesterday I was playing tennis

2. On July 4th he celebrated his birthday/On July 4th he was celebrating his birthday

Are both of these forms equally correct and is the meaning pretty much the same? Which of them do you personally prefer?

Thanks
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Newguest1. Yesterday I played tennis/ Yesterday I was playing tennis

2. On July 4th he celebrated his birthday/On July 4th he was celebrating his birthday

Are both of these forms equally correct and is the meaning pretty much the same? Which of them do you personally prefer?
Both are correct. I use both, depending on the situation.
The simple past just means an action completed. The past continuous emphasizes the duration of the action, or a relationship with another action.
Yesterday I played tennis for 4 hours, and today I am so sore that I can hardly move. (I would almost always use simple past)
Yesterday I was playing (played) tennis with my friends. We really had a good time. (I use either, equally)
Sorry I missed your call yesterday. I was playing tennis with my friends. (I always use past progressive)

Sometimes it seems to me that I can use either of them interchangeably without changing the meaning.

Eg. Was it snowing this time last year. ---- What if I said: Did it snow.......

George was playing football with his workmates at 6 pm. ---- How about: George played..............

It was 1998. We were living in a small village at the time. ---- How about: We lived in a small..............

Ten minutes later I was still waiting for the tram. ---- Ten minutes later I still waited .......
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NewguestAre both of these forms equally correct and is the meaning pretty much the same? Which of them do you personally prefer?
Your question is a little like another one: Emotion: smile

Are a hammer and a screwdriver both tools, and are they used pretty much for the same thing? Which of them do you personally prefer?
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No, the two tenses you are asking about are not pretty much the same, and it doesn't make sense to prefer one over another. They are like two different grammatical "tools" that are used depending on the job that needs to be done.
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The simple past tells what event occurred.
The progressive past tells what activity was going on.
If you want to tell someone what events occurred, say "I played tennis", "He celebrated his birthday". Your listener will think of these as single events without the details. Yes, lots of things happen during a tennis game, but your listener won't even think of all those details. Yes, lots of things happen during a birthday celebration, but your listener won't even think of all those details.
If you want to tell someone what activities were going on, say "I was playing tennis", "He was celebrating his birthday". In the first case, your listener will get an image of you and your opponent in the activity of playing tennis, including the details of the running, hitting the ball with the racket, and so on. In the second case, your listener will get an image of people gathered together, eating and drinking and laughing, and generally having a good time.
So the simple past presents what happened as closed, opaque, lacking detail, occurring at a point in time; the progressive past presents it as open, transparent, full of detail, occurring over a period of time.

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Because the progressive forms open up the details of an action so that we think in terms of the duration of the action, we often place a simple past event within the duration of a progressive past activity, thus:
I was playing tennis when a skunk suddenly crossed in front of me.
The skunk event happened at some point in time during the period of time when tennis playing was happening.

While he was celebrating his birthday, someone stole his car.
The theft of the car happened at some point in time during the period of time when the birthday celebration was happening.
CJ
Newguest
Was it snowing this time last year. -- What if I said: Did it snow..

George was playing football with his workmates at 6 pm. ---- How about: George played..............

It was 1998. We were living in a small village at the time. ---- How about: We lived in a small..............

Ten minutes later I was still waiting for the tram. ---- Ten minutes later I still waited .......

Thanks for the detailed answer CJ!

But do you think that all of the above sentences, the ones on the left and the ones on the right are correct?

would you ever say: Did it snow this time last year? OR maybe the past cont. sounds better: Was it snowing this time last year?
Did it snow this time last year? seems a little too specific. I would take it almost as Did it snow on this date last year? Hardly anyone would remember such a thing. I think, therefore, that unless I were consulting a meteorologist regarding real weather data, I would use Was it snowing this time last year? because it suggests an entire, but approximate, time period during which some snowing activity may have happened.
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G was playing football at 6 suggests that G was playing football between, maybe, 5 and 7. The football playing activity was in progress when the clock struck 6.
G played football at 6 suggest that G had, maybe, an appointment to play football at 6. The game started at 6.
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We were living there at the time sounds like a set-up for something more. It's descriptive. It's setting the scene for something that happened, most likely during that year, 1998. That was lucky, because the big cities had food shortages that year.

We lived there at the time sounds like a final statement. There's nothing more to be said. We lived there. Period. We've finished talking about 1998. Let's move on now to what we did the next year. In 1999, we moved to a big city.

In the specific cases you have here, I think the place "we were living" is emphasized more, and the year "we lived there" is emphasized more.
That said, with a stative verb like live, the difference between simple and progressive tenses is minimal.
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Ten minutes later I was still waiting for the tram is the only one of the two that is possible. That's because of still, which seems to beg for the progressive tense. We were still [living, waiting, staying, working, resting] there. still implies a continuity of activity which is contradicted by the use of the simple tense.
Ten minutes later I was waiting for the tram suggests that finally, after ten minutes of various other events or activities, I arrived where I began the waiting process, which lasted for some unspecified amount of time.
Ten minutes later I waited for the tram is a little anomalous because waiting is by nature continuous and couldn't have happened all at once at the point in time indicated by ten minutes later.
I waited for the tram for ten minutes is normal. It conceptualizes the full ten minutes as "closed" and entirely "filled" with the ten-minute waiting event.

I was waiting for the tram for ten minutes is a little anomalous. The period of ten minutes is "closed" or "bounded", so it doesn't mix well with an "open", "unbounded" tense.
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Unfortunately, what you learn about the subtleties of one verb does not necessarily apply to the use of any other verb. Each verb has its own grammar, and sometimes a verb does not act the same as any other verb when it comes to the nuances of the tenses it appears in.
CJ
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Thank you very much for your thorough response CJ! It seems to be a bit clearer now Emotion: wink
CalifJim
Ten minutes later I was still waiting for the tram is the only one of the two that is possible. That's because of still, which seems to beg for the progressive tense. We were still [living, waiting, staying, working, resting] there. still implies a continuity of activity which is contradicted by the use of the simple tense.

CJ

Hi

I have one more question regarding "still"

Let's say that I meet a friend whom I haven't seen for a long time and he tells me that he still works/is working as a teacher (well, I'm not sure which form he would use?). Then I am very surprised and I say/ask: You are still working as a teacher?/You still work as a teacher?

Should I use the progressive form or the present simple? The progressive form asociates me with something temporary and he's been working as a teacher for many years so I'm not sure which form would be more appropriate here. Shall I use the progressive form because of STILL???

Thanks

NewguestThe progressive form asociates me with something temporary
I think you mean that you believe that the progressive form is associated with something temporary. This is false in most cases. (You can use adverbs with the progressive which express something temporary, however: We're only living here for the summer.) The progressive form in the past is associated with something that was on-going, something that was "in progress", something that was an activity as opposed to an event. The progressive form in the present is also associated with an on-going activity, but as opposed to a habit (because you can't have a completed event in the present).

In all probability, the exchange would go as follows:
Friend: I'm still working as a teacher.
You: I'm surprised to hear that. You're still working as a teacher? Really?

I would certainly do it that way.
I'm still working as a teacher indicates that I am continuing the activity of teaching. I currently have a job as a teacher, for example.
I still work as a teacher indicates that I continue to have the habit of working as a teacher. I continue to consider myself a teacher -- someone who would take a job doing teaching if it were offered.
So, in a context that might occur very rarely, you could theoretically say:
I still work as a teacher, but I'm not working as a teacher just now.

CJ
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