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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > when (past continuous)    

when (past continuous)



El-Samreyah
Egypt

when (past continuous)
 
Can "when" be followed by the past continuous? Can we say for example (the children were playing when their mum was cooking?)
 
Thanks in advance

21 Dec 2016      



kohai
Latvia

For two actions that were happening at the same time (parallel actions) you should use´while´:
The children were playing while their mum was cooking. 

Edit: Thanks for the question and answers. Now I understand that I saw just one side of the coin and even not the one the question was about!

21 Dec 2016     



El-Samreyah
Egypt

Yes, I already know that. I was wondering about "when"

21 Dec 2016     



moellemj
United States

Yes, that sounds okay to me in that instance. Or, "I was working when you were eating lunch." That sentence sounds perfectly fine to me.
 
But "when" would be best if it is followed by an interruption or noncontinuous action.  "The children were playing when their mum called for them."

21 Dec 2016     



yanogator
United States

I agree with moellemj. There is a slight difference in meaning.
 
The continuous tenses are generally used to emphasize that an action takes place over time, giving importance to the time and duration of the action. "While" reinforces this emphasis.
 
"When" is usually used for a single point in time, so it removes some of the duration emphasis from the past continuous.
 
"I was working while you were eating lunch" is somewhat saying "I was working the whole time you were eating lunch".
 
"I was working when you were eating lunch" is just giving a timeframe for my activity, being similar to "I was working at your lunchtime".
 
Bruce 

21 Dec 2016