Is it true that if I say "Joe got a ticket because he drove too fast", this means that Joe drove too fast as a habit and instead I should say "Joe got a ticket because he was driving too fast"?

Is it true that "Joe drove too fast last night" and "Joe was driving too fast last night" can be used interchangeably?

  • 1
    Neither sentence describes (or even implies) a habit. For a habit it would need to be something like this: There's something you need to know about Joe. He drives too fast. Or He has been driving too fast. Both sentences in your question merely say that he happened to be driving too fast the one time he got a ticket. Apr 7, 2019 at 20:50
  • @Jason Bassford Does it make a difference if I change the sentence into: " He was stopped because he drove too fast"?
    – anouk
    Apr 7, 2019 at 21:00
  • 1
    Not in terms of a described habit, no. Apr 7, 2019 at 21:01
  • the "habit" explanation was given to me by a native.
    – anouk
    Apr 7, 2019 at 21:03

1 Answer 1


The simple past can be used to describe a single event in the past. This makes the meanings of "...because he drove" and "...because he was driving" very similar. There is a slight difference in viewpoint (whether the fast driving was a single event or a continuous process) but this is minor. I would tend to use the past continuous "...was driving..." because the process of driving fast took longer than getting a ticket, and he was stopped while the process was ongoing. Compare

John was arrested because he shot Sally.

(not "was shooting" we are talking about a single event not a process)

Similarly in the main clause "John was driving" and "John drove" indicates we are thinking about the event slightly differently:

John drove to the shops

John arrived early at the party because he drove.

It was an event

John was driving to the shops (when his tyre burst).

It was an ongoing process that was stopped by a short event.

  • Would it be possible for you to give an example with "because he drove" as a single event?
    – anouk
    Apr 9, 2019 at 15:05
  • I've added such an example.
    – James K
    Apr 9, 2019 at 20:40
  • Sorry James, I don't understand this sentence. Does it mean he arrived early, because he went by car? Why not use the past perfect ? The driving happened before the arrival.
    – anouk
    Apr 12, 2019 at 9:38
  • 1
    You could have used a past perfect, but the past perfect is rarely essential.
    – James K
    Apr 12, 2019 at 14:08

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