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They met one day while John's father was reading a book in the library and his mother sat down beside him.

Why it is not was sitting? Is it because of the while conjunction. Have both actions the same duration as normally past continuous indicates that the action is longer than with past simple.Or maybe two "verb+ing"s do not sound nice.

  • Lucian has given a good answer. But I just wanted to point out that the difference between past continuous and past simple is not that the continuous action is understood to be "longer" than an action expressed with past simple; rather, the past simple action is presented as one that happened, without any reference whatsoever to its duration. Duration does not come into the picture with past simple. A line segment is not longer than a point, right, because a point has no length. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 8 '17 at 12:26
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As is, the sentence creates the image of John's father reading a book while his mother came and sat down beside him. So, his reading was interrupted by her presence.

If was sitting were used, then both actions that of reading and that of sitting could be regarded as occurring simultaneously for a certain amount of time.

Consequently, both versions are correct but they may imply slightly different pictures.

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  • It could be that it is grammatically correct, for the reasons you have given. More likely, I suspect, is that it is a frequently made grammatical error. In various north of England accents, it is perfectly common to hear the past participle of a verb, substituted for what should be the present participle, especially when employing the past continuous (imperfect tense). I was sat in the library, when a tall man walked in. I suspect the sample sentence, in standard English, should read ...and his mother sitting down beside him – WS2 May 8 '17 at 18:23

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