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When I do homework about tenses especially in simple past and simple past progressive, I got a problem to different the use of each tenses>

Example question :

It was beautiful day yesterday when we went for a walk in the park. The sun ..... . a cool breeze .... . the birds ....

Based on that question, I feel confused which should use simple past and which should use simple past progressive.

Can anyone explain when I have to use simple past and simple past progressive?

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It all depends on what you are trying to say. I am not sure what the context of your setting is. But I'd write something like this. Assuming it's a one time occurrence.

It was beautiful that we went for a walk in the park yesterday. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping and a cool breeze was blowing.

You use the past progressive when you want to talk about something that continued for a bit and then stopped. It shows the continuation of an action in the past. You use the simple past when you just want to say that something happened. Here the walk happened yesterday and you just want to say that you took it. If you want to focus on the walk itself and describe something as it was happening, you can use the progressive. For example:

As we were walking down the street, a kid came up to us and asked for directions.

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It is important to remember that both simple past and past progressive, as we often colloquially refer to them, are actually the same tense:

  • simple past with a simple aspect: action occurance
  • simple past with a progressive aspect: action over a progression

It gets interesting... You have to consider the conjunction "when" or preposition "while" (among others), or any other adverbial phrase.

when: refers to an action percieved as a point in time

while: automatically emphasizes the duration of the action, so you'd see why the "progressive" aspect might be useful here to add that extra emphasis.

Simple + Simple

The past tense with a "simple" aspect just means that the action was carried out with emphasis on the point at which that action occurred.

I listened to music while I ran.

(I listened to music at some point while running--a general remark or fact, remains unemphasized. Note that I used "while", which might seem counterintuitive. This is why it is perhaps better to use the following example, because "while" hints at a timespan)

Simple + Progressive

English can emphasize actions as they occur over a timespan using the "progressive" aspect, which is just your typical be+verb+ing scheme.

I listened to music while I was running.

Here I have an action over a timespan "running" and at some unspecified point during the "run" timespan, I listened to music.

Progressive + Progressive

What if I combine two verbs with the progressive aspect?

I was listening to music while I was running.

This is very specific, because it emphasizes two actions over the same timespan (using while as a conjunction instead of "and" forces this), because the tenses are the same.

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