He was staying in Rome that summer.

He stayed in Rome that summer.

Can I use the two sentences above interchangeably? Or do they have slightly different meanings?

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    Since the "default" version is Simple Past, native speakers would normally expect some reason for choosing to use Past Continuous. Since you've given no particular context to justify the more complex verb form, you should probably stick to the KISS principle, otherwise native speakers might just assume you're using "Indian English" (which non-idiomatically uses continuous forms in many contexts where mainstream Anglophones never do). May 14, 2019 at 16:28
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    (Mainstream English: I like my job. Indian English: I am liking my job.) May 14, 2019 at 16:31
  • @FumbleFingers I saw the first example in The Grammaring Guide to English Grammar (grammaring.com/…). Could you teach me when the first example can be used?
    – jinnyk216
    May 14, 2019 at 16:38
  • @FumbleFingers This reminded me of one my questions! It's interesting how "ask A if he's staying tonight" is preferable over "ask A if he stays tonight", but when it comes to a past situation that's exactly opposite. I guess that's because of the sentence essence. Here it looks to be a mere fact-reporting sentence without any uncertainty. However, the other one carries with it the sense of uncertainty in my humble opinion. ( link to that question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/136323/… )
    – Cardinal
    May 14, 2019 at 16:40
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    jinnyk216: The best advice is probably that you should never think about using Past Continuous in such contexts unless you're specifically interested in the timespan of the activity as opposed to the fact of it having taken place. Thus, He was staying in Rome when met his future wife (i.e. - look out for contexts involving words like when, while). May 14, 2019 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


I am a learner myself and I understand your confusion. I agree that the past simple is reporting a fact, but the past continuous can be used to emphasize a temporary or new situation "he was staying in Rome that summer, the rest of the year he stayed in Milan." That could be one reason to use the past continuous. One thing I have learnt is that context is everything.

  • No, it's not really relevant that the reported act might be "temporary" or "new". What's relevant is that the duration should be contextually significant (because something else happened / was happening at the same time, for example. May 14, 2019 at 17:01

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