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Here is a task in an English test:

Last night my neighbors got angry because I (played / was playing) the piano. They repeatedly came to my door and knocked, but I didn't hear the knocks. Why? Because I (played / was playing) the piano.

I was taught that I should choose the simple tense to talk about habits or routines, and the continuous tense to talk about being in the very process of doing something, but that doesn't really help make the choices in this particular task. The sentences are neither about a habit nor about any particular moment of time. What's more confusing is that two choices have to be made, which suggests that the answers might be different.

So which choices should I make and why?

  • "...and the continuous tense to talk about being in the very process of doing something" You were in the process of playing the piano when the neighbors were knocking on the door. You should use "was playing". – Micah Windsor May 23 at 13:16
  • @MicahWindsor : Thanks, this explains the choice in the last sentence, but I'm still curious about the first sentence. It seems right to say, "I didn't hear the knocks, because I was in the process of playing the piano," but it doesn't seem right to say, "The neighbors got angry because I was in the process of playing piano." They got angry because of the noise. But the answer below says that I should choose the continuous tense in both sentences... – Mitsuko May 23 at 13:50
  • They are both correct. The sentences are clear and make sense with "was playing". – Micah Windsor May 23 at 13:52
  • @Mitsuko: the process of playing the piano causes the noise that angers the neighbours. – anouk May 23 at 19:24
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You should choose because I was playing for both - you were 'in the very process of doing it' when the neighbours knocked on the door.

I played the piano often means I was able to play/habitually played.

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