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I already asked a question about “weren’t playing” vs. “didn’t play”. I’m not sure if the same rules apply in an example like this one:

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

vs

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

Can the second one be used in this case? Does the meaning of the sentence change?

  • Is it not correct to do it in a new topic? – Sergey Mar 12 at 9:10
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    @Sergey, it’s okay to ask a follow-on question, but you need to explain why it’s truly a new question. You can’t simply say, “Practise is the best master.” We don’t want six or seven questions all asking the same thing just so you can practise more. I’ve edited this question to give you a better idea of how to do this, but feel free to edit it again if you have specific questions that I did not address. – J.R. Mar 12 at 11:34
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    I feel this is a distinct question because the "weren't playing vs didn't play" question was tied up in the specific unusual case of the implications of language used when referring to sports teams (as explained in what is currently the top answer). This question is, in my opinion, much more applicable to the general case. – Muzer Mar 12 at 11:44
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    It might be better to make this question more general rather than differently specific. – SamBC Mar 12 at 13:23
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Your "didn't go north" example, as it stands, to me implies that your trip was completely cancelled. You were perhaps considering going north on that day, but the bad weather meant you didn't go north after all. With more context though you can change this meaning; for instance, "The weather was very bad, so we didn't go north that day, but the next day the weather had improved, so we went then". The point of "didn't go north" is your focusing on the fact that the trip as a whole didn't happen, or at least didn't happen at the time you expected it to.

"We weren't going north", on the other hand, puts the emphasis more on the action of going north not happening at that particular time. For instance, you could say "the weather was very bad, so we weren't going north. This meant we could see the 5pm showing of the film after all". The point of this example is that since you weren't actively travelling at that time, you could instead watch the film (presumably in the south!). Whether or not you did eventually go north is kind of irrelevant to that sentence, and you can't make an inference either way.

An expression like this can ALSO be used, with a slightly more colloquial feel, to indicate that going north would be impossible for some period of time. For instance, "the weather was very bad, so it looked like we weren't going north any time soon" - this indicates that going north appeared impossible at least in the near future (as a British English speaker I would generally also take "any time soon" to be an understatement; that is, the speaker likely means that it's actually going to be impossible for quite a long time, but I'm not sure if this transfers to American English). You could also use a phrase like "wouldn't be going north any time soon" or other similar phrases in the same context; my ears at least can't detect any difference in meaning between the two.

  • Re: “anytime soon”, it is the same in American English. “Not going to happen anytime soon” = “Not going to happen for a long time”. – Mixolydian Mar 12 at 11:48
  • Thanks! So, if I undestand you, "we weren't going north" could also means that we did it in another direction. "The weather was very bad, so we weren't going north, we were going west." vs "The weather was very bad, so we weren't going north, we did it to the west of initial plan". Are both sentences now grammatically correctly? – Sergey Mar 12 at 12:08
  • I understand, that the second sentence is about that we something did. But this "did" could only mean that we only "were going ..." or it is mean that we did something more? – Sergey Mar 12 at 12:09
  • @Sergey The most important point is that "didn't go" puts more emphasis on whether or not the journey happened, whereas "weren't going" puts more emphasis on the act of actually travelling (or not). So your first example here could be said when you're setting the scene of something happening on the journey ("It was Monday. The weather was very bad, so we weren't going north, we were going west. Suddenly, the car broke down."). But if you're just talking about your plans changing you should use "did" ("I'm sorry we didn't visit you. The weather was bad, so we didn't go north, we went west"). – Muzer Mar 12 at 13:27
  • Your second example also works grammatically though sounds a little clunky, and it's missing a "the" before "initial plan". I'm also not 100% sure what you're trying to say; it maybe sounds like you're trying to say you didn't go directly north but instead went west and then north (if you went "to the west"), or that you perhaps still travelled roughly north but also to the west at the same time. – Muzer Mar 12 at 13:28

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