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Dear teachers,

Could you please tell me the difference between the following couple of sentences?

1) a) We watched TV all night.
b) We were watching TV all night.

2) a) I have been cutting onions, this is why my eyes look red.
b) I have cut my finger when I was cutting onions. (correct sentence ?)

3) a) It has rained all night.
b) It has been raining all night.

4) a) I have been writing letters all morning.
b) I have written letters all morning.

5) a) Look at the mess my paper is in! Who has been reading it?
b) Look at the mess my paper is in! Who has read it?

Thanks a lot,
Hela

PS: What do I need to do if I want to sfind out a previous post?
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Comments  
1) a) We watched TV all night.
b) We were watching TV all night.

What is the context for the above?

You said you didn't sleep last night.

What have you been doing all night, then?

We were watching TV all night; we were playing cards all night; we were dancing all night.

Let us say that the only thing you did was looked at TV. Then I would write ' We watched TV all night.
[Others might tell you the difference between the two in another way.]

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2) a) I have been cutting onions, this is why my eyes look red.
b) I have cut my finger when I was cutting onions. (correct sentence ?)

If you meet someone just after cutting onions, I would use the first sentence. Because your eyes are red as a consequence of cutting onions.

The second one is proper to use even after the cutting of onions took place some hours ago. Of course, it could be said seconds or minutes after cutting the onions. It is up to to you to use the proper sentence.

After 3 or 4 days later, you could tell someone about the incident using the second sentence too. Why? Still you have the wound , you have some pains, you have a bandage etc.

You could even use the simple past sentence 3 or 4 days later.
I cut my finger when I was cutting onions 3 days ago.
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3) a) It has rained all night.
b) It has been raining all night.

You wake up early in the morning and look through your window and say the first sentence.

I would use the second one if it is still raining. It is raining cats and dogs.
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4) a) I have been writing letters all morning.
b) I have written letters all morning.

The first one means even now you are in the process of writing letters.

The second one means thay you may have just stopped writing letters.
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[ I HAVE NO MORE TIME TO REPLY YOU. I AM SORRY. THE OTHERS WILL REPLY. THEY MIGHT COME WITH DIFFERENT ANSWERS.]
The most natural are 1a, 2a, 3b, 4a, 5a. 2b is incorrect. An adverbial indicating a point in time ("when I was cutting onions") is incompatible with the perfect aspect. ["while I was cutting onions" is more idiomatic, but also impossible in this sentence.]

With the past tense ( Example 1 ) adverbials of duration (all night, all day, all morning, for a long time) are most natural with the non-progressive of a verb which expresses an activity. [All your examples are examples of activities.] On the other hand, adverbials of a point in time are most natural with the progressive.

We watched TV all night. We were watching TV at 10 o'clock last night.
It rained all day. It was raining when I went to bed. When I woke up it was raining.
I wrote letters all morning. I was writing letters when the phone rang.

With perfect aspect (All but Example 1) the non-progressive focuses on achievement rather than activity. To retain the idea of activity, the progressive is applied. The progressive aspect in this context is more compatible with adverbials of duration. The present perfect progressive is typically used when some activity has been taking place up to the present moment and the focus is on the current relevance of that activity.

It's been raining all night. (That's why the pavement is wet this morning.)
It has rained twice this week. (That's the current state of the weather for this week. In a strange way, this is an "achievement" for nature, I suppose! In any case the focus is not on the "activity" of raining in this sentence.)

I've been writing letters all morning. [It must still be morning to say this! Note the focus on activity.]
I've already written three letters this morning. [It must still be morning to say this. Note the focus on achievement.]
I was writing letters at 10:30 this morning. [It need not still be morning to say this. Typically it is not still morning when this is said.]
I wrote letters all morning. [In the typical use it is not still morning when this is said.]
I wrote a letter this morning. [Here the change to singular changes an activity (letter writing) into an achievement (the completion of the writing of a single letter).]

I've been cutting onions ("continuously until now" implied). That's why my eyes are red ("now" implied). I have cut the onions ("sometime before now" implied; "they are currently in the state of being cut" implied). (They are ready to add to the stew.("now" implied.))

In the paper reading example, the speaker questions what activity caused the current state of affairs, namely, that the newspaper is messed up. The focus would not normally be on the "achievement" of messing up the paper, nor on the "achievement" of reading the paper, but rather on the "activities" of reading, and consequently messing up, the paper.

CJ
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Thank you very much indeed Califjim for your explanations.

I'll study them very carefully and I'll come back to you to tell you if I grasped everything.

All the best,
Hela
CalifJim

A great answer from you. This must have taken a lot of time and energy. Hela should be indebted to you for this excellent and great answer.
CalfJim

1.He has learnt to fly an Airbus.

2.He has been learning to fly an Airbus.

The difference between the two sentences are as follows:

In the first sentence, I am telling you, that the pilot has completed the study of flying an Airbus.

In the second sentence, I am telling you, the pilot is still in the process of learning how to fly or manouver an Airbus.

I am eager to read the way you distinguish the difference in the meaning of my sentences.

Obviously, you could say he is learning to fly an Airbus instead of he has been learning to fly an Airbus.
I am not interested in the present continuous form in this scenario.
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Dear CalifJim,

I'd like to clarify one point in your answer. You told me that in the PAST TENSE an adverbial of DURATION works more with the SIMPLE form of the verb, whether in the PRESENT TENSE it works better with the PROGRESSIVE form of the verb, is that so?

ex1: We WATCHED tv ALL NIGHT.
We WERE WATCHING tv AT 10 o'clock last night. (AT = adverbial of point in time)

ex2: It RAINED ALL DAY.
It was raining WHEN I went to bed. / When I woke up it was raining.

ex3: I WROTE letters ALL morning.
I WAS WRITING letters WHEN the phone rang. (WHEN = point in time)

but:

ex4: a) It has rained ALL NIGHT.
b) It HAS BEEN RAINING all night. [b) is better than a) ? but is a) OK?]

Thank you very much for your help.
Best regards,
Hela
The distinction you make between these is correct. It's what I would sense as the difference. You have a good grasp of it. Emotion: smile
Yes. You've got it.

In the rain example, both are OK.
The likely distinction is more or less as follows.

"It has rained all night" is a conclusion you draw when you wake up and look out the window. You see that it has rained all night. It makes the raining all night an achievement of Mother Nature, thought of as a single weather event. Or you could say "It must have rained all night". This stresses even more that you are concluding from the evidence you see in the morning.

Note that there is yet another circumstance in which you would say "It has rained all night".
-- I hear that this region is famous for long periods of rain. Has it ever rained all night?
-- Yes, it has. It has rained all night (on some occasions). In fact that happened twice last month.

"It has been raining all night" can be used in exactly the same circumstances as the form above, and it often is (waking up and seeing the wet roads). But it cannot be used in the example of the region famous for rain, i.e., you can't have "It has been raining all night on some occasions". (I doubt that even a forced reading could contextualize it.)
The progressive form can also be used in the case where you have actually personally experienced the rain throughout the night, perhaps because the sound of the rain kept you awake, or because you yourself were up all night studying English and therefore were awake to observe the rain all night! This form makes the raining all night a continuous activity.

CJ
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