Is it possible to use the past continuous with before? For example: We were watching television before you arrived last night. Or is simple past the only option?

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    I don't really understand what you're getting at here. Compare I was watching my favourite program before you turned the TV off and I watched my favourite program before you turned the TV off. In the first case you probably didn't get to see the end of the program before it was turned off, but in the second case you probably did see the whole thing. It really just depends on what you intend to say - there are no rules banning certain combinations that I can think of here. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 20 '18 at 16:01
  • ...note that in your specific example context, arguably there are slight nuances of difference between before and reasonable alternatives such as when or until. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 20 '18 at 16:03
  • I just want to express what I was doing before the person arrived. I thought that maybe the past continuous can't be used with before. – anouk May 20 '18 at 16:16
  • Well, compare I was making your supper before you arrived, and I made your supper before you arrived. The first is probably explaining why supper isn't on the table (speaker hadn't finished making it), whereas the second is probably explaining why supper is on the table (because speaker made it earlier, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 20 '18 at 17:20

Certainly. As with many choices of aspect in English, either is possible, and differs only in how the speaker wishes to refer to the events. The choice of watched implies that, for the purpose of the current discourse, the speaker is regarding the watching as a completed act. Were watching suggests that the speaker has the watching in mind as a continuing process - perhaps they are then going on to talk about something that happened while we were watching.

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