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Thread: Past tenses

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    Past tenses

    Please, help me with past simple and past continuous I think I understand how to use them in general. But in some cases I have doubts which tense to use. For example, which of this questions is correct?
    "What did you do on your holidays?" or "What were you doing on your holidays?"
    The same problem with the answer on this question:
    "I swam, went to discos, met my friends" or "I was smimming, going to discos, meeting my friends".

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    Re: Past tenses

    Yeah, that has always been a toughie for me too. The only thing I can tell based on my old school days: depends on what you've been asked. To the question: "What did you do?" reply with "I swam," and to the question: "What were you doing?" reply with "I was swimming". And so forth..

    Just kidding. In reality, I think it very much depends on what you want to emphasize. If it's the process you enjoyed - say "I was swimming in cold water." If it's just a fact you're talking about - say "I swam from this island to that island."

    Having said that, please wait what the real native English speakers would say.

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    Re: Past tenses

    There is a good book to explain this (in my opinion) clearly enough, it is called "Петрова А.В. - Самоучитель английского языка".
    You can download it from here http://www.abooks39.narod.ru/428.html or here http://alleng.narod.ru/d/engl/engl96.djvu

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Yeah, that has always been a toughie for me too. The only thing I can tell based on my old school days: depends on what you've been asked. To the question: "What did you do?" reply with "I swam," and to the question: "What were you doing?" reply with "I was swimming". And so forth..
    No problem with this part here as well

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Just kidding. In reality, I think it very much depends on what you want to emphasize. If it's the process you enjoyed - say "I was swimming in cold water." If it's just a fact you're talking about - say "I swam from this island to that island."
    Well, yes, I understand this, but what about the case I was asking about? Если по-русски, то какое время нужно использовать, чтобы спросить: "Чем ты занимался на каникулах?". И в каком времени ответить: "Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д." Или вот такой вопрос - "Что ты делал вчера вечером?". "Я смотрел телевизор".

    Quote Originally Posted by alexone
    There is a good book to explain this (in my opinion) clearly enough, it is called "Петрова А.В. - Самоучитель английского языка".
    You can download it from here http://www.abooks39.narod.ru/428.html or here http://alleng.narod.ru/d/engl/engl96.djvu
    Oh, I don't need a book, I know how to use these tenses, I need to understand this particular situation...

    Native speakers, please, help!

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Nat_Nat
    Если по-русски, то какое время нужно использовать, чтобы спросить: "Чем ты занимался на каникулах?". И в каком времени ответить: "Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д." Или вот такой вопрос - "Что ты делал вчера вечером?". "Я смотрел телевизор".
    В этих случаях, как мне представляется, акцент ставится именно на самом процессе, происходившем в прошлом:

    Чем ты занимался на каникулах? = What had you been doing on your vacation?
    Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д. = I'd been swimming, going to the night clubs, etc.

    P.S. Pleez korekt may meesteikss!

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Quote Originally Posted by Nat_Nat
    Если по-русски, то какое время нужно использовать, чтобы спросить: "Чем ты занимался на каникулах?". И в каком времени ответить: "Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д." Или вот такой вопрос - "Что ты делал вчера вечером?". "Я смотрел телевизор".
    В этих случаях, как мне представляется, акцент ставится именно на самом процессе, происходившем в прошлом:
    Чем ты занимался на каникулах? = What had you been doing on your vacation?
    Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д. = I'd been swimming, going to the night clubs, etc.
    P.S. Pleez korekt may meesteikss!
    Неее, Past Perfect и тем более Past Perfect Continuous здесь в любом случае не подойдет... Их можно использовать только в том случае, когда есть согласование времён (когда одно действие было раньше другого). Языковое чутьё мне подсказывает, что здесь всё-таки "What were you doing?", но есть у меня подозрение, что так подсказывает русское языковое чутьё Без native speakers не обойтись...

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    Re: Past tenses

    Crocodile, ты вроде хорошо по Англицки изъясняешься, но здесь:
    Чем ты занимался на каникулах? = What had you been doing on your vacation?
    Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д. = I'd been swimming, going to the night clubs, etc. явно не то.
    Так можно - He asked me about what I had you been doing on my vacation и так - What have you been doing on your vacation?

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by alexB
    Crocodile, ты вроде хорошо по Англицки изъясняешься, но здесь:
    Чем ты занимался на каникулах? = What had you been doing on your vacation?
    Я плавал, ходил на дискотеку и т.д. = I'd been swimming, going to the night clubs, etc. явно не то.
    Так можно - He asked me about what I had you been doing on my vacation и так - What have you been doing on your vacation?
    Мне однако же далеко до нейтивов. Но за комплимент спасибо.
    Насчёт: "What have you been doing on your vacation?" Русское чутьё мне подсказывает, что мои каникулы ещё не кончились в момент вопроса. А если выбор стоит между "did" и "was doing" явно имеется в виду прошедшее время. Коррект ми иф ю кен.

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Коррект ми иф ю кен.
    Всё, сейчас начнётся обсуждение всех существующих времён и нэйтив спикер до ответа на мой вопрос не доберётся Если они тут ещё остались... нэйтив спикеры, в смысле

    The initial question is still actual, though

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    Re: Past tenses

    to Crocodile
    Ты придумал хорошее правило If it's the process you enjoyed - say "I was swimming in cold water." If it's just a fact you're talking about - say "I swam from this island to that island." Нэйтивы, мне кажется им и руководствуютс в обычной жизни, голову особо не ломая. Что же Past Perfect, то оно обязательно соотносится с другим действием в прошлом, подчёркивая его предшествие этому другому действию и просто отдельно наверное и не употребляется.

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Nat_Nat
    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Коррект ми иф ю кен.
    Всё, сейчас начнётся обсуждение всех существующих времён и нэйтив спикер до ответа на мой вопрос не доберётся Если они тут ещё остались... нэйтив спикеры, в смысле

    The initial question is still actual, though
    Past Indefinite all around.

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Yeah, that has always been a toughie for me too. The only thing I can tell based on my old school days: depends on what you've been asked. To the question: "What did you do?" reply with "I swam," and to the question: "What were you doing?" reply with "I was swimming". And so forth..

    Just kidding. In reality, I think it very much depends on what you want to emphasize. If it's the process you enjoyed - say "I was swimming in cold water." If it's just a fact you're talking about - say "I swam from this island to that island."

    Having said that, please wait what the real native English speakers would say.
    This is all correct.

    Normally if you are just talking about something in the past, use the simple past:
    -What did you do yesterday?
    -I went to the store, then I played tennis.

    Past continuous is usually used when talking about different events happening at the same time:
    -Did anything interesting happen?
    -Yes, while I was driving to the store I saw a fire.

    If you are talking about something in the immediate past, sometimes you can use either one:

    (loud noise)
    --What did you DO?/What were you DOING? ("What are you doing?" is also correct here)


    Please ask more questions if it is still confusing.

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    Re: Past tenses

    1a. "What did you do over the holidays?"
    1b. "What were you doing over the holidays?"
    2a. "I swam, went to discos, and got together with my friends"
    2b. "I was smimming, going to discos, and getting together with my friends".
    1a is the most normal way to ask a question. I would always use the simple past for this type of question. 2a is the most typical type of response.

    1b is grammatical, but I can't imagine a context in which I personally would say precisely that sentence. (I'm linguistically picky. I can imagine other people saying it, and I wouldn't bat an eye if they did.) I can imagine either 2a or 2b in response to 1b.

    If a friend of mine has just said, "I spent the the last week of vacation in the hospital," then I might say in response:

    3a. "What did you do over the holidays that you ended up in the hospital?"
    3b. "What were you doing over the holidays that you ended up in the hospital?"
    3c. "What had you been doing over the holidays that you ended up in the hospital?"
    3d. "What had you done over the holidays that you ended up in the hospital?"

    All four sound normal. I would probably say 3d if I expected that there was one particular event that caused my friend to go to the hospital. I would probably say 3c if I expected the cause of his hospital stay spread out over a period of time during his vacation (i.e., too much partying, hiking through mosquito-infested jungles). 3c and 3d are, from the point of view of classical English grammar, the two best answers since the past perfect and past perfect progressive are used to indicate a previous circumstance whose result is relevant to a past event. But 3a and 3b sound perfectly normal to my ear. In the States we are gradually losing the usage of the perfect tenses, so most native speakers here probably don't know that 3c and 3d are considered more correct by us pedants.

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    Re: Past tenses

    paulb, doninphxaz, thank you very much indeed for your explanations! Now I understand!
    To tell the truth, I met such examples in Course books and "What did you do?" was the most common there, but it sounded so strange for a Russian ear that I suspected that I'd got it wrong... It's so good that there is such a forum where you can get advice from people who actually uses the language on practise

    Crocodile, у меня с английским почему-то всегда так - в общем вроде бы понятно, а по мелочи: языковое чутьё говорит одно, а грамматика - другое, вот я и начинаю сомневаться...

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    Re: Past tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Nat_Nat
    Crocodile, у меня с английским почему-то всегда так - в общем вроде бы понятно, а по мелочи: языковое чутьё говорит одно, а грамматика - другое, вот я и начинаю сомневаться...
    У меня, как видишь, тоже не всё идеально. We're getting there, though ...

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