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In "Practical English Usage , the author points out that we can use the past simple with while or as in sentences like:

Jack cooked supper while I watched TV.

As I sat reading the paper, the door burst open.

Would you please give more explanation about the use of past simple after while or as in spite of the duration of the action. Thanks in advance.

Original Post
@Ahmed towab posted:

In "Practical English Usage , the author points out that we can use the past simple with while or as in sentences like. . . . Would you please give more explanation about the use of past simple after while or as in spite of the duration of the action.

Hello, Ahmed—As subordinating conjunctions, "while" and "as" can indicate "during the time that" or "at the same time as." The choice between the past simple and the past progressive tends to be a choice between those meanings.

When the past simple is used with "while" in a sentence like "John cooked supper while I watched TV," the sentence indicates that John cooked supper throughout the time that the speaker watched TV.

Interestingly, with the past simple, there is an additional possibility. The sentence could be used to express past habitual meaning. Compare: "John used to cook supper while I watched TV." Those two activities used to coincide.

When the past progressive is used with "while" in a sentence like "John cooked supper while I was watching TV," the indication is that the supper cooking took place at the same time, but not necessarily throughout, the TV watching.

Last edited by David, Moderator

Thanks for your reply David but Swan pointed out that we can use past con. Or past simple for two longer actions, we can say:

John was cooking supper while  I was watching TV

John cooked supper while  I watched  tv. 

Still I' m confused when you say ( throughout the time ) do you mean that the action was completed at the time). Does ( throughout the time differs from ( at the time of or during the time)

@Ahmed towab posted:
Still I' m confused when you say ( throughout the time ) do you mean that the action was completed at the time). Does ( throughout the time differs from ( at the time of or during the time)

Hello again, Ahmed—Cooking supper and watching TV are both activities that are engaged in for a period of time. When the duration of the supper-cooking time period is compared with the duration of the TV-watching time period, there are three possibilities: no overlap, partial overlap, or complete overlap.

Since "while" (or "as") is being used as the coordinating conjunction, we can rule out there being no overlap; it is a question of whether the TV-watching period overlaps partially or completely with the supper-cooking time period. I am saying that the simple tense works better if there is complete overlap.

The progressive/continuous, which is very natural and usual in "while"-clauses (provided the verb of the "while"-clause NOT stative), is better to use in the case of partial overlap, since the progressive focuses on the middle of an action or period of time.

"Jack cooked supper while I watched TV" would be used if the beginning and ending of Jack's cooking supper coincided with the beginning and ending of the speaker's watching TV.  "Jack cooked supper while I was watching TV" would be used if Jack's cooking supper occurred during part of the television period.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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