a. Jane had been studying for 5 hours when her parents came home.

b. Jane was studying for 5 hours when her parents came home.

I think 'a' is ok, but what about 'b'? As a non-native, I wonder 'b' is correct, especially in grammar. Can I use past continous with 'for'?


A native teacher replied to me just a while ago that 'b' is not correct. "In spoken informal English, yes, you can use the Past Continuous and there will no misunderstanding. However, in a test, if you want to be perfectly grammatically correct, you should use the Past Perfect Tense. A well-spoken native speaker would also use the Past Perfect Continuous if they mention the length of time."

What's your opinion about this? Is 'b' natural or awkward?


Yes and no.

Past continuous with "for" is okay. However, "b" is not correct.

"B" is not correct because of "when". Did Jane's parents need 5 hours to arrive at home? No, so Jane's studying happened in the 5 hours before they arrived. Since the studying was before a past event, the sentence needs to be "a", not "b".

Use past continuous with a time expression.


"I was tossing and turning all night."

"Jane was studying for 5 hours yesterday."


Both are correct and understandable and have the same meaning that

Jane studied for 5 hours before her parents came home.

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