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Could you tell me if there is any difference in meaning between the past simple and the past continuous when used before till? For example:

I worked till midnight and then went to bed.

I was working till midnight and then went to bed.

I cannot seen any difference between then. Are both totally interchangeable there?

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  • The first is a bare statement of fact, the second carries the nuance that the work took a very long time or that you were very conscientious in working so late. – Kate Bunting Jan 20 at 13:53
  • The fact of including the word until in an adverbial clause modifying a Past Tense verb clause effectively forces us to recognise the "continuous" nature of the action being referenced (regardless of whether it's expressed using Simple Past or a Continuous participle). So it's difficult to contrive a context where the choice of verb form might affect the meaning. But consider something like I was waiting until midnight to phone him, but he beat me to it by ringing me at eleven o'clock. You can't use I waited there! – FumbleFingers Jan 20 at 13:56
  • "till" is also not really a formal word, but rather a shortening of "until". It is fine to use in conversation, but in writing you would need a specific reason to use it (e.g. to emphasize a character's manner of speech or dialect). – maxbear123 Jan 20 at 15:21
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I think the functional meaning is often alike or identical. And several comments address this.

It may be interesting to consider scenarios where the interpreted meaning changes in a clear way. ("Reading between the lines")

For example. If you are asked a question

"What did you do last night"

One answer might be:

"I worked until midnight and then went to bed"

Which is a direct answer to the question.

Another answer might be:

I was working until midnight and then went to bed.

Strictly speaking, in my view, this just states what you are planning to do, not necessarily what you actually did.

It is a defensive posture. I think this was pointed out in a comment. It can come across as lie.

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