Is there any difference between these sentences?

Whenever I see Graham, he's wearing a tracksuit.

Whenever I see Graham, he wears a tracksuit.

Also somewhat similar:

I like to listen to music when I drive

I like to listen to music when I'm driving

I was reading John Eastwood's "Oxford guide to English grammar". From page 82 he starts explaining the difference between the present simple and present continuous tenses and gives some examples but I was wondering whether in these examples the second variant of tense is possible and what it can possibly mean if it is.


Whenever I see Graham he's wearing a track suit.

On those occasions when I happen to meet Graham by chance, he's always wearing a track suit. (A possible implication: You might think a track suit was the only piece of clothing he owns, or these are uncanny coincidences.)

Whenever I see Graham, he wears a tracksuit.

On those occasions when Graham and I have arranged to meet, he wears a track suit. (For example: We go running on those occasions.)

The simple present (he wears) implies a habit or practice, and so we interpret the subordinate clause as referring to a regular, prearranged meeting.

The present continuous (is wearing) implies not a regular practice but a discrete action-in-progress, and so we interpret the subordinate clause as referring to something other than an arranged or habitual meeting, namely, a chance encounter.

  • +1 for the explanation as it applies to the first contrast, but how about the second? It seems unlikely that we'd choose drive vs driving there based on "whether we happened to be driving" or made an arrangement to do so. Apr 24 '18 at 8:58
  • Also, on thinking about it more, I think that Whenever I see Graham, he wears . . .. is relatively unlikely. More commonly, I suspect we'd use another verb that makes it clearer something was arranged, and I think we would much more commonly include an always (even though it's not necessary and arguably redundant given the whenever. Apr 24 '18 at 9:15
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    @Jim Reynolds: I agree that a more careful statement would probably express the subordinate clause more clearly (Whenever I happen to run into Graham, he's wearing a tracksuit.). But such carefulness is not obligatory for the grammar, and we do use the main clause to understand the meaning of the subordinate clause in such circumstances. Apr 24 '18 at 11:13
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    @JimReynolds I could imagine choosing drive if I'm trying to identify the times when I choose to drive instead of being a passenger. For example: "I carpool to work with Bob every day and we take turns driving. I like to listen to music when I drive, but he finds it distracting when he drives." Apr 24 '18 at 14:28
  • @Can Yes. Interesting. We would probably stress I if speaking the sentence, another indicator that we are contrasting I with Bob in your example. It seems to me that we'd alternatively use I'm driving and he's driving in that example, and the two choices could mean the same things sometimes, and at other times, the present simple would indicate a habit (general truth type use) while the -ing form would emphasize immediacy/short-term. Something like that. :) Apr 25 '18 at 8:34

The first sentences are a bit distorted for clear comprehension. A suggestion: you may put it this way 'Graham, likes wearing a tracksuit', or 'most at times, i see Graham wearing a tracksuit'. For your second question, you may use either of the two; it's normal.

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    Neither of those means the same thing as the original two sentences, though.
    – stangdon
    Apr 27 '18 at 23:10

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