6

Did your team win the football match yesterday?

The weather was very bad, so we weren't playing.

vs

The weather was very bad, so we didn't play.

Is the first one not correct? Why is it?

  • Please don’t add a second question once people have answered the first. If you have a follow-on question, ask it as a separate question. That said, in order to avoid the second question being closed as a duplicate of the first, make sure you explain why your answers to the first question don’t answer your second question. – J.R. Mar 12 at 11:27
12

Okay, so this is a very specific answer to a very specific question. In this specific case, where there are sports teams involved, there's actually a difference in how I, as a native speaker of British English, understand those terms.

We weren't playing.

This means that the team wasn't scheduled to play. So, in the case of the weather, you might say:

The weather was very bad, but we weren't playing anyway so it didn't really matter.

On the other hand, we have the meaning you want in the other option:

We didn't play.

That means that you didn't play. Playing was not done by you. For any reason, you didn't play. In certain contexts, it might have been that you were supposed to play but didn't, or it could mean you were never scheduled. Thus we get to your example sentence:

The weather was very bad, so we didn't play.

This means what you want - you were supposed to be playing, but the weather was bad so you didn't.

Now, the fact you have the so in the weren't playing example means that native speakers will understand what you meant. You've indicated a causal link between the two statements, and thus you must mean that you had been intending to play and then didn't. However, it's more idiomatic, in my experience, to use we didn't play in that situation.

I've no idea if this is unique to British English or not.

  • 2
    As an American, I agree that "...so we didn't play" is more idiomatic, and what I'd probably say. – Mixolydian Mar 11 at 18:40
  • So, this example is more idiomatic than grammar question, is it? – Sergey Mar 11 at 18:54
  • 3
    Like I said, this is a very specific answer to your question. The answer to questions like this in English often depend on what you're talking about, and you'll get different answers depending on the activity and actors involved. So for any other activity than a game being cancelled, the answer can be different. – SamBC Mar 11 at 19:02
  • 1
    The weather was very bad, so we were reading a book at home. The weather was very bad, so we didn't go out. The weather was very bad, so we were going to bed. The weather was very bad, so we didn't hear about it. The weather was very nice, so we weren't reading the book. Are here some mistakes or inaccuracies? – Sergey Mar 11 at 19:19
  • 4
    To me (native American English speaker), "weren't X-ing" implies that not only did you not "X", you hadn't intended to. So for example, "we weren't drinking (because we were planning to drive)" vs "we didn't drink (because they were out of beer)". It's not perfect because sometimes you're just using a very specific verb tense. e.g. "Did you throw rocks?" In this case, "We weren't throwing rocks" and "We didn't throw rocks" are pretty much the same. You'd probably answer to match the original question- "Were you throwing rocks?" vs "Did you throw rocks?". – Scott Mar 11 at 20:21
5

Complementing the British English perspective provided by SamBC, here's an American English perspective (more specifically Midwestern American English).


There's a slight linguistic difference between the two forms. 'Did not play.' uses the past tense of 'to do', while 'Were not playing' uses the past tense of 'to be'. In many cases in casual English, there is little semantic difference between these two verbs other than making sure the rest of the sentence has the correct structure ('do' always1 pairs with a present tense verb, 'be' always1 pairs with an infinitive form).

Idiomatically, in informal American English, the two example responses are mostly interchangeable.

In formal American English, however, there is a potentially important difference.

In formal usage, the first example expresses through the use of 'were' that at a specific time in the past, the act of 'playing' was not being carried out by the group of people referred to by the pronoun 'we'. In contrast, the second example expresses through the use of 'did' that a specific past instance of the act of 'playing' was not carried out by the group of people referred to by the pronoun 'we'.

This difference leads in turn to most of what dictates preference in American English for which form (using 'were' or 'did') 'sounds' right, independent of whether it's formal or informal usage. In your particular case, the second form ('we didn't even play') is what most native speakers here in the US would pick when responding to the question, because the question is asking about a specific event. For the same reason, the first example, sounds a bit odd, at least by Midwestern standards of American English.

For what it's worth, you can blame this peculiarity of English on it's roots in Old French. Other Germanic languages use a single form for both meanings (without a couplar verb such as 'be' or 'do'), instead inferring this differentiation from context.


1 'Always', of course, having the usual 'almost all the time except when dealing with a small handful of truly random words that no sane person should have to remember' meaning that it typically does when discussing the English language.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.