Could you, please, help me understand this dialogue from my English textbook?

A: Why was Ann crying before?

B: She had been training for the finals for over a week before she found out she had been disqualified.

It's quite unusual to me to see 'before' in that example. I can't imagine the situation in which it would be the right word to use.

And one more thing. Why is the Past Continuous used in “Why was Ann crying?”

Is it the only correct option? Can I use Past Simple instead and would there be any difference in meaning?

1 Answer 1


Before is typically used as a conjunction to contrast an earlier event with an event that followed.

He had taken a sip before he realised that it wasn't water.
She had dressed herself before she heard a knock at the door.

In your example had been training emphasises the extent of the training. It would be possible to say that she had trained but that might be on a single occasion, which is not the same thing. You could also say simply that she trained but that presents the same problem. So while these options are grammatical, they lose the emphasis on extended training - the sense of having trained at length.

In short, the example, as given, is the ideal way of constructing the sentence in that context but not the only way.

Why was Ann crying before? is unusual and somewhat puzzling. We would normally expect earlier or beforehand or before that unless the question followed a statement such as:

Ann has just come back from a meeting with the lawyer
Why was Ann crying before?

It's another way of saying beforehand or earlier but it's not idiomatic.


  • Thanks for your quick reply:) But Past Perfect Continuous is clear to me. I don't get the usage of Past Continuous in the first sentence. Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 18:53
  • 'Before' in your example works just great because the sentence is complex, while mine is simple. Before what was she crying? It's puzzling. Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 18:58
  • 1
    "was crying" is used to convey the crying was in progress at the moment he is thinking about: the " before". You can imagine her crying, it is graphic so to speak, stronger than "cried" , which is just stating a fact.
    – anouk
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 19:43

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