I found my key when I (had looked/ was looking) for something else.

What is the correct choice and why?

My answer is "was looking" because the event of “founding the key” was interrupted “looking for something else”.

But my teacher says that it’s “had looked” but I can’t get convinced.


  • 1
    I wouldn't want to be taught by a teacher who says that "had looked" is correct here. – SovereignSun Dec 28 '17 at 12:00
  • had looked would be permissible if the sentence read: I found me key AFTER I had looked for something else, making clear that you had finished looking for something else before you found the key. – Ronald Sole Dec 28 '17 at 15:13

"was looking" is the correct answer. Simply due to the presence of the conjunction When which in your example grammatically expects a past tense rather than a past perfect tense.

The only situation when had looked would be correct:

  • I found my key after I had looked for something else.


  • After I had looked for something else I found my key.

Note that the conjunction "After" is followed by a past perfect tense.


If you want to express what your teacher is talking about, the right way to say it is:

I found my key while I was looking for something else.

This isn't really incorrect:

I found my key while I had looked for something else.

The speaker here is saying that first he/she looked for something else, then stopped looking for that something else (gave up on it or found), but she did end up finding the key.

I found my key when i (had looked - was looking ) for something else.

The use of when is a bit weird.

By using when, you are saying that at the time the act of looking was in progress (was happening), or that the act of looking had completed (had happened), you found your key - but When also makes the two things it connects a bit disconnected or disjointed - implying it that the two are not strictly dependent on each other - i.e. maybe you accidentally found your key.

  • I simply cannot agree that "I found my key while I had looked for something else" is anywhere close to idiomatic. The past perfect involves a specific instant of past time. "While" relates to a duration of time. I shall change my down vote if an example of this usage from a competent writer can be cited. – Jeff Morrow Dec 28 '17 at 16:19

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