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  1. The bus was travelling much faster than usual when it went through the bridge.

  2. The bus travelled much faster than usual when it was going through the bridge.

Are there any subtle differences between the two sentences above?

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  • You have presented a choice, but changed two things at once, making it difficult to answer. In fact, your sentences should be identical aside from the first verb. So, your second sentence should instead be The bus travelled much faster than usual when it went going through the bridge. Jun 27, 2020 at 14:20

3 Answers 3

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Peter's answer assumes went through the bridge to mean crossed the bridge, while my understanding of sentence (1) was that the bus had crashed through the bridge parapet. This implies that the excessive speed caused the accident. In this context, sentence (2) doesn't really make sense.

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  • This is correct. The problem with the question is that, for a fair comparison of the main verb, the second sentence should use travelled, but keep went. Jun 27, 2020 at 14:22
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"Was traveling" and "was going" treat the actions as processes, but "traveled" and "went" treat the actions as events. There is usually not much difference in meaning, but one might be preferred over the other in a particular context. For example an accident report, where the bus crossed the bridge and then had an accident as a result of its speed, would be more likely to use the first sentence. A report on a ticket for speeding on the bridge would be more likely to use the second.

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When two things happened in the past and one of them was “continuous” in nature and the other was “short and sudden” and happened some time during the “continuous” action the “longer” one is in the past continuous tense and the “short” one is in the simple past.

Example: I was watching TV when the doorbell rang. I was waiting for a bus when I ran into my old friend.

The “bus & bridge” example is more natural when the “longer” action is continuous and the “short” one is in the simple past. It is logical to assume that the bus was probably “traveling” along its decided route when - at some point - it crossed the bridge and not the other way around.

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