Which one of the following statements is correct? I am unsure of the rules regarding the time words "at that moment" in the sentence.

  1. At that moment I saw a whale spouting water into the air.

  2. At that moment I was seeing a whale spouting water into the air.


I don't believe there is any kind of a rule that says you must or cannot use a particular tense with at that moment. It depends mostly on the meaning, and also on the characterisics of the particular verb.

If you are talking about a punctual event, you use the simple past:

At that moment I dropped my keys.

At that moment he appeared in the doorway.

At that moment I realised I was lost.

If you are talking about an action of state that was continuing through the moment, you usually use the continuous:

At that moment, I was sitting at home, waiting for a phone call.

At that moment, he was eating lunch.

[It is not a coincidence that I have used commas in the last two example: "at that moment" is playing a slightly different role in the two cases. With a punctual event, "at that moment" defines when it happens: in narrative terms, this is usually pushing the story forward. With a continuing event, it is generally giving background information rather than pushing the story on].


You could probably add more context that would justify example #2 ("I was seeing"), but without more context it's strange. #1 ("I saw") is more normal as given.

The difference is that "I saw" is more definite and finite in time, whereas "I was seeing" indicates more ongoing continuity. The context "At that moment I saw a whale spouting water in the air." indicates a specific moment in time and a specific momentary scene. Whales spout water for only a few seconds at a time. Since the context indicates a moment in time, it's more normal to use "I saw".

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