Are there any shades of meaning between the use of the past continuous, present simple and past simple in the following sentences?

He was saying that he is going to leave soon.

He says that he is going to leave soon.

He said that he is going to leave soon.

I know is that all three can refer to the present, but I cannot feel the difference. The first one sounds to me that what one was saying hasn't completed. It is only a guess, though.

  • 1
    How can "He said" be the present?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 21:02
  • @Lambie when you have a question is better to create your own question instead add in comments
    – Sisso
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 8:02
  • @Sisso [instead of making it in the comments]. I disagree. Questions help people learn. The truth is this: He said cannot be present tense.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 12:53
  • @Lambie I am not sure if I understand, are you asking or affirming? Looks like your last sentence ["He said" cannot be present tense] is an affirmation.
    – Sisso
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 14:01
  • @Sisso I am now affirming it for you since you didn't seem to like the question....[by the way, in English, every sentence needs a subject: It is better to create]
    – Lambie
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


The past continuous:

The past continuous (also called past progressive) is a verb tense which is used to show that an ongoing past action was happening at a specific moment of interruption, or that two ongoing actions were happening at the same time. Read on for detailed descriptions, examples, and past continuous exercises.

Past Continuous Forms The past continuous is formed using was/were + present participle. Questions are indicated by inverting the subject and was/were. Negatives are made with not.

Statement: You were studying when she called. Question: Were you studying when she called? Negative: You were not studying when she called.

The trick is this: Even if there is not actual "when" or "while" or "as" in the sentence, these are always implied.

This is always the idea of something that defines the moment in time when the was/verbING is being used.

So, "He was saying that he is going to leave soon." would imply either:

  • as he was getting ready to leave. OR
  • when we arrived at the house.

Those are examples of implied time limiters.

The he said/he says examples are obvious. One is present; one is past.

The present continuous can be used with a simple past tense.

  • He said we have a good chance of winning the game.

He said it in the past, but the game has not yet been played. If the game had been played, he would have said:

  • He said we had a good chance of winning the game. [the game has been played]

English page https://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastcontinuous.html


He said is the simplest way of describing the words that someone spoke. This is the most common. The actual words spoken would be "I'm going to leave soon". You could use this to describe what someone said at any time, even after they have left.

He says is talking about what the person means, or the ideas that they have right now. It would be used to imply "If you were to ask him right now, this is what he would say". In practice, there are many situations in which both "He said" and He says" are both possible. But if the person has already left, then you couldn't use "He says".

He was saying adds the continuous sense to he said, it suggests that he spoke at length, and so "he is going to leave soon" is just a summary, not directly quoted speech.

  • So as I understand it the "he was saying that..." could mean that perhaps the person was giving other information, and that he is going to leave is what I understood from his speech, right? Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 19:41
  • Yes, that is a good interpretation
    – James K
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 20:14

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