I would really like to know the difference between these two sentences:

  1. Two years ago I was working in New York.
  2. Two years ago I studied English in England.

The way I interpret them:

  1. means that in 2016 I was working in New York, I started before 2016 and my working was in progress. It is an action occurring at a specific time – that is, two years ago.

  2. I am confused, because I am not sure what it means. Does this sentence mean I started studying in England two years ago, or does it actually mean I was studying in England in 2016, (like my first example) and would past continuous also be possible?

  • Is French your native language by any chance?
    – Lambie
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:01
  • No, born in Germany, raised in the Netherlands.
    – anouk
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:47
  • Right, thanks. I know nothing about Dutch and German. Too bad for me. :)
    – Lambie
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:48
  • It is similar to English, but we have less tenses, especially those wonderful continuous tenses that I find so complicated.
    – anouk
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:53
  • Ah yes. I understand. Working out the tenses can be annoying.
    – Lambie
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


The imperfect merely describes something that was ongoing at some past time.

I worked in New York two years ago. [all we know is that the working was at that point in the past]

I was working in New York two years ago. [The activity of working was ongoing at the time, two years ago.]. These are often sentences that imply something else that occurs after a when clause even if not explicitly stated: I was working in New York two years ago when my boss fired me.

Both are past, both are finished. Neither addresses when you started or stopped working. One says you had an ongoing activity and the other merely said you performed that activity two years ago.


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