A:..Then I sent you a message from the cafe to to say where I was last night.

B: I didn't get any texts from you yesterday! I tried to phone you but there was no answer.

I have two questions:

1)Can I use here past continuous to emphasise continuous action(several attempts to get through)? (because, as I feel, past simple doesn't emphasise the process itself):

I was trying to phone you but there was no answer.

2)What is the meaning of past simple in this context:

  • Person B was struggling to get through and it was continuous action


  • Tried only the once and it was a single action?

Neither form of the verb (tried or was trying) makes it clear whether one or more attempts was involved.

Although both forms are idiomatic, it is more likely that someone would say something like:

I have been trying to phone you
or, specifically
I (have) tried to phone you several times

The past continuous form is more often used to say what someone was doing when something else occurred, as in:

I was trying to phone you when my battery went flat
I was trying to phone you when I dropped my phone and broke it.

However, the choice of tense and construction really depends on personal preference - and another view is offered in FumbleFingers' comment below).

  • 2
    I can't agree that the tried / trying choice has no implications for number of attempts made. In practice a native speaker wouldn't be likely to deliberately choose the continuous to make that distinction with OP's exact example, but surely the difference is quite clear if we compare Did you try to ring me yesterday? and Were you trying to ring me yesterday? I'm in no doubt the latter strongly implies My phone rang several times [but I didn't answer it], but not the former. Mar 4 '19 at 15:24
  • @FumbleFingers I can't argue with your illustrations. But I didn't say it had no implications. I said it wasn't clear. However, you comment will show OP the other half of the coin. Mar 4 '19 at 16:08
  • 1
    I think the basic issue here is that OP needs to be made aware that I was trying to call you yesterday simply isn't something a native speaker would ever say in the context he's thinking of (with no when- clause or similar), so it's irrelevant to the exact context whether you could use this as a way of implying "multiple attempts". Effectively, the only way to convey that is to explicitly say something like I tried to call several times - but the distinction he's reaching for does exist with the examples in my comment. Mar 4 '19 at 18:01

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