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While I was washing utensils in the kitchen, my mother ________(relaxed/was relaxing) on the sofa. Which one is correct relaxed or was relaxing?

Is it okay to combine past continuous tense (was washing) with a simple past tense (relaxed) or must the whole sentence be in past continuous tense?

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  • Either is correct, but 'washing utensils' sounds unidiomatic. Jul 12 '20 at 18:30
  • @EdwinAshworth I only need to change relaxed or was relaxing, the 'washing utensils' thing is part of the question.
    – Sujal Motagi
    Jul 12 '20 at 18:31
  • @SujalMotagi They are both grammatical. If this is from a test, then there is insufficient information provided to know why it thinks only one is correct. Jul 12 '20 at 18:33
  • The fact that a test contains '[While I was] washing utensils in the kitchen' indicates that it might well have a dubious marking scheme. Jul 12 '20 at 18:42
  • I would have a slight preference for "was relaxing" because then the tenses of the words match, but both are acceptable. If they say that "relaxed" is wrong then I think that their argument is quite weak. If they say that "was relaxing" is wrong I'd love to know why.
    – BoldBen
    Jul 12 '20 at 19:56
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These are both acceptable, but they have a very slight difference in meaning. The continuous sense tends to focus on the process... making it seem like it takes time. So saying I 'was washing' helps the hearer get the idea of the time it took.

So what you want to do with the mother depends on whether you want to emphasize the time (was relaxing) or the state (relaxed).

The most natural is probably to put them in parallel: thus "While I washed... relaxed' or 'While I was washing... was relaxing'.

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