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This is an example of simple past usage I stumbled upon on YouTube :

"Sarah and David talked for two hours"

It is not clear to me why present perfect or past continues are not used here instead of past simple or can all of these tenses be used correctly? "For two hours" specifies a duration of time and "for" is also a signal word used in present perfect tense and past continues tense. I thought past simple is used for finished actions, but in this example, the action was in progress. So why is this sentence correct in simple past tense?

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The past simple tense is actually quite commonly used with phrases like "for two hours".

SMarkoI thought past simple is used for finished actions

This is a finished action. It's just that the action took two hours.

SMarko"for" is also a signal word used in present perfect tense and past continues tense.

That often happens for the present perfect continuous of non-stative verbs, yes, but not so much for the past continuous. Time periods are usually left very indefinite when the past continuous is used, i.e., without "for" phrases of time.

CJ

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Here are some examples I found online.

He went right to bed after the game and slept for 10 hours.
We talked for hours about life.
He slept for 14 hours after we arrived.
I lived in Stokenchurch for 18 years.
He waited for a response for 14 months.
For months he came and went as he pleased.
I did ceramics for years.
I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.
I am German, but I lived in Italy for 40 years, so Italian is my second language.
He worked in the propaganda department for 22 years.
Gerald Henderson played in the NBA for 13 years.
Ed studied the patient charts for hours.
We filled out all the necessary paperwork and waited for months.
They went to the Old Town boardwalk, where they walked and talked for hours.

CJ

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I know it is finished, but I don't know why past continues is not used. Past continues is also used for action that was happening in the past and lasted for some period of time.

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Let me get this straight: past continuous refers to a time in the past which is not finished? So, "for two hours" would tell us how much the action lasted so we use simple past tense. But the thing that confuses me is that "for two hours" does not tell us when the action started to last, and that is important because simple past tense tells us a specific point in time when the action happened (for instance: He lived in France in 1994). In the sentence "Sarah and David talked for two hours", that specific point in the past is not there.

SMarkoPast continues continuous is also used for action that was happening in the past and lasted for some period of time.

Yes, but not often when the period of time is precisely specified as a certain number of hours, months, or years, or whatever.

The past continuous mostly shows that something was happening, not how long it was happening. You describe it correctly as "lasted for some period of time", but that doesn't mean that you say in the same sentence exactly what period of time that was. You almost always leave that information indefinite.


The past continuous often describes a background activity against which a more definite (foreground) event occurs. The two components of this pattern are usually connected by "when".

I was taking a shower when the phone rang.
We were all studying in the library when suddenly all the lights went off.
There was a traffic accident at the intersection while we were waiting for the bus.

It would completely spoil the effect of such sentences if you added a 'for' phrase of time. So you will almost never hear anybody say I was taking a shower for five minutes when the phone rang.


You will hear these grammatical patterns quite often:

It rained on the day of their wedding.
It was raining on the day of their wedding.
It rained for two hours on the day of their wedding.

But you won't often hear this:

It was raining for two hours on the day of their wedding.

CJ

SMarkopast continuous refers to a time in the past which is not finished?

No, that's not the right way to look at it. It's about a period of time in the past during which something was happening. We don't know if this activity finished. We don't care if it finished. The past simple tense is the one that says it finished.

It was raining. Raining was happening during some indefinite period of time in the past.
It rained. There was an episode of rain. It began at some point in time; it ended at some point in time.

SMarkothe thing that confuses me is that "for two hours" does not tell us when the action started

Correct. "for two hours" says that the end of the action was two hours after the beginning of the action. We need more information in the sentence if we want to specify when the action started (or ended).

Starting at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, it rained for two hours.

SMarkosimple past tense tells us a specific point in time when the action happened (for instance: He lived in France in 1994)

That's not exactly correct. The simple past can tell us a specific point in time when the action happened, but it doesn't have to tell us that. The simple past implies a point in time, but it doesn't need to be accompanied by a phrase that tells us exactly what that point in time is.

Lucy slipped on a banana peel, fell to the ground, and broke her arm. (When? It doesn't say. But you can start with Yesterday at 10 in the morning if you want to specify the exact time.)

SMarkoIn the sentence "Sarah and David talked for two hours", that specific point in the past is not there.

You are absolutely correct. Whoever wrote that sentence was not interested in focusing on the time this happened. The two hours in question could have been earlier this morning or 100 years ago or at any other time (except now or in the future of course).

CJ

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CJ Sir, while going through your reply to the above question a confusion arose in my mind regarding your sentences "You will hear these grammatical patterns quite often" and "But you won't often hear this" I would like to know why you used "will" and "won't" in the first and second sentences respectively. Does "will", which represents future tense go with "quite often"? Kindly tell me that grammar idea.

Thank you.

cat navy 425"You will hear these grammatical patterns quite often" and "But you won't often hear this" I would like to know why you used "will" and "won't" in the first and second sentences respectively. Does "will", which represents future tense go with "quite often"? Kindly tell me that grammar idea.

"will" (or "won't" when negated) can be used to express the idea that something is very characteristic, something that happens quite regularly, something that can be expected to happen.

("quite often" is fine in these expressions.)


Examples with their paraphrases.

I will quite often eat while watching TV.
Our dog will scratch at the door when he wants to be let in.
Our daughter is so shy she will run and hide in her bedroom when we have visitors at the house.
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It is my habit to eat while watching TV.
It is the habit of our dog to scratch at the door ...
It is the habit of our daughter to run and hide ... because she is so shy.

CJ

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