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I am trying to figure out what the difference is between:

whenever we drive, we are helping the automobile company and are basically ruining the environment.

how would the meaning change if I said:

whenever we drive, we "help" the automobile company and basically "ruin" the environment.

I am trying to compare "we are helping" and "we help" as well as "we are ruining" and "we ruin".

  • Your question seems to be incomplete and ambiguous. Which sentences should be compared? – helen Sep 13 '18 at 21:22
  • Welcome to ELL.SE. As helen notes, it is not clear what you are trying to compare. Please edit your post to provide context. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Sep 13 '18 at 21:26
  • I'd say the version with continuous tense focuses the 'whenever' on every moment of driving, while the alternative version is more about each time (we sit down behind the wheel becomes a fact of contributing to...). – Alex_ander Sep 13 '18 at 22:43
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There's only a very tiny difference between the two in meaning, and both are correct grammatically, so to some degree the choice comes down to ease of expression, style, etc; e.g formal vs chatty tone, simple vs longer expression. But I would generally prefer the second sentence.

Difference in meaning
There's a very subtle semantic difference, to do with when the action happens.

"We are helping" and "we are ruining" are verbs using the present continuous tense, whereas "we help" and "we ruin" are simple present tense. Present continuous typically signifies something happening concurrently or in an ongoing sense, whereas simple present is used for an activity that takes place habitually.

[Technically, this reflects the grammatical aspect of the verb, although it would be rare for a native speaker to learn this at school - they're more likely to simply learn what "sounds right"].

The word "whenever", on the other hand, suggests a degree of timelessness: it could be now, or in the future, or even in the past. "Whenever" is a bit like saying "when always" (though we never say "when always"!). For this reason, using the simple present tense makes a bit more sense.

Whenever we drive, we help the automobile company and basically ruin the environment.

Equivalent to: "Each time we drive, we help the automobile company..." or "when we drive, we always help the automobile company...".

Ease of expression
The first expression includes the word combination "and are basically", where the subject ("we") is implied. There's nothing wrong with this formulation, and in spoken English we cut corners like this all the time, but when it's written down it looks slightly awkward, and we would therefore tend to avoid it by adding the implied subject:

Whenever we drive, we are helping the automobile company and we are basically ruining the environment.

However, this is sounding a bit wordy; in fact there are now four extra words compared to the simple present tense version. Again, the latter version wins because it's shorter and simpler.

  • hello Chappo. that is a very very thorough explanation. If I were to say the first one would people think that I was not a native speaker? – franziska bohn Sep 14 '18 at 14:17
  • @franziskabohn native speakers would also use the first one, but not as commonly. Perhaps if it was part of a public oration and was being said slowly, for greater effect. Though in that case a native speaker would probably add the second "we". – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Sep 14 '18 at 22:09
  • See that's what I thought, But I was told that the continuous tense is more advisable. E.g.: "Whenever you drink soda, you are feeding your body sugar." Whenever you drink soda, you feed your body sugar – franziska bohn Sep 14 '18 at 22:43
  • Another example I gave where I was told that I should use the present continuous is: "Whenever we go on diets, we are trying to lose weight." instead of "whenever we go on diets, we try to lose weight," – franziska bohn Sep 14 '18 at 22:51
  • I’d use simple present for drinking soda. But diet sentence is a bit different: the emphasis is on current status rather than habit, so present continuous is probably a better choice. – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Sep 14 '18 at 23:46

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