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What is the correct alternative for the following sentence?

When he lived in California, he____(went, was going to) to the cinema once a week.

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    Mainstream native Anglophones would very rarely use the continuous in your context. But speakers of "Indian English" stereotypically would. If I heard it from someone I knew to be a competent native speaker I probably wouldn't think anything of it (it may be perfectly "natural", depending on the exact "nuance" intended). But as a learner / nns you should definitely avoid the continuous here. Personally, I wouldn't waste time trying to understand exactly when it is natural. It's not likely to be required. Jun 26, 2020 at 15:03
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    I would use went or used to go. Jun 26, 2020 at 15:15
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    You may want to add "would go" as a possible alternative, as well. Jun 26, 2020 at 19:18
  • When he lived in California, he was going to the cinema three times a week but now he's only going once a week. That is how it might be used completely idiomatically. It is used comparatively like that a lot.
    – Lambie
    Aug 10, 2020 at 16:59
  • I think the OP's example makes sense in one context. "When he lived in California, he was going to the cinema once a week until he lost his job." And no. No Indian speaker would ever use the continuous in this case, because it doesn't make any sense in hindi either. Aug 10, 2020 at 17:42

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The simple past describes isolated, short, complete events—even if those events may have occurred more than once.

The past continuous describes a series of connected events or one long-running event.

Movies are generally isolated events, and sequels are few enough and far enough apart to still be isolated. The only gray area would be if you were taking (note the past continuous there) a course on cinema that required seeing a new movie every week, which could link the events together.

Going to the gym would be a better fit for the past continuous since, hopefully, all your visits are part of a long-term plan to improve your health and fitness, not isolated events. But you would still use the simple past when talking about a specific visit.

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The difference: the past emphasizes the process in the past, not necessarily complete; the general past emphasizes the event, and must be completed. Past progress refers to actions that are being performed at a specific point in time or time period in the past, and generally indicates actions completed at past times in the past.

you should use went

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Person One: Hey John. How often is Tom going to the cinema these days?

Person Two: When he lived in California, he was going to the cinema three times a week but now he's only going once a week.

  • That is how it might be used completely idiomatically. It is used comparatively like that a lot.

  • If a present progressive is used in this context, evoking the past and using the past continuous is fine. was going could also be expressed as used to go here.

Person One: Well, I am going a lot less compared to when I was at university. But last year, I was going [or used to go] about six times a month. Now, I hardly go at all.

went can be used also. But then, it refers to definitive events.

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