I came across this question on grammar but it seems I can fill this with any of the 4 past tenses.

Diya _____ ( cook ) for hours yesterday.

My answers:

  • Diya cooked for hours yesterday
  • Diya was cooking for hours yesterday
  • Diya had cooked for hours yesterday.
  • Diya had been cooking for hours yesterday
  • for hours implies continuity so the best choice is was cooking. Anyway, cook is transitive here, it needs a direct object. Diya cook sth.
    – user178049
    Jan 19, 2017 at 12:02
  • @user178049 I agree with the first part, but 'to cook' can also be used as an intransitive verb here.
    – Glorfindel
    Jan 19, 2017 at 12:11
  • @Glorfindel I believe to cook is used transitively here. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cook
    – user178049
    Jan 19, 2017 at 12:15
  • @user178049 I'm looking at this definition: to prepare food for eating especially by means of heat and the fifth and sixth example sentence below it.
    – Glorfindel
    Jan 19, 2017 at 12:16
  • @Glorfindel Umm, now I agree with you :)
    – user178049
    Jan 19, 2017 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


All four are possible. The difference, as usual for questions of aspect in English, is not in the circumstances described, but in the way the speaker/writer chooses to refer to them and to relate them to other events.

In the absence of any particular context, the second is much the most likely. You would only use the third or fourth forms if you were setting the event relative to some later event; and as user178049 says, for hours refers to a long activity, so the continuous "was cooking" is more likely; but if this is the first sentence in a continuing narrative of things that happened after the cooking, the first would be more likely.

  • I'll upvote, but even though your "most likely" is less contentious than user178049 's "better", I'm not really convinced that's even true, let alone a point worth making as some kind of handy generalisation. FWIW, Google Books has a smattering of hits for worked for hours yesterday, but none at all for was working for hours yesterday. I think the true position is that the simplest tense form is nearly always the most common, and should thus be promoted unless specific contexts dictate otherwise. Jan 19, 2017 at 13:28
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers, I take your point, and I confirm that in the NOW corpus "XXed for hours" occurs 1789 times, against 73 for "was/were XXing for hours". All I can say is that for me, "for hours" (which is primarily expressive rather than informational, unlike eg "for three hours"), the continuous form better suits the attitude expressed.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 19, 2017 at 20:26

I cannot explain it elaborately, but let me give you examples for each of the past tenses. I hope this help even a little. :)


The Simple Past is used to express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past.

Diya cooked for hours yesterday.


The Past Continuous is used to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted.

Diya was cooking when her husband came.


The Past Perfect is used to express the idea that something occurred before another action in the past.

Diya had already cooked dinner when her husband came.


The Past Perfect Continuous is used to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past.

Diya had been cooking for hours when her husband came.

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