Suppose I am reading a book and a friend calls me and asks what I am doing.

Can I answer:"I am reading a book" even though I have stopped reading for the moment to answer the phone,

or should I say: "I was reading a book"?

  • 1
    Since it is apparent to your friend that you aren't talking to them and reading the book simultaneously, does it matter? Language is for communication, not for demonstrating how well we know grammar. If your friend was asking "What are you doing at this exact moment, you would have to answer "Sitting, holding the phone, answering your question, breathing, thinking about English tenses and wondering if I should use 'am' or 'was'..." :) – ColleenV Mar 26 at 13:28
  • @ColleenV I am just asking for an answer, Colleen. – anouk Mar 26 at 13:32
  • Same in French: Je lis lá ou je suis en train de lire versus: je lisais. Same in Spanish too. – Lambie Mar 31 at 17:19
  • I am not French or Spanish. I am German and Dutch. – anouk Mar 31 at 18:53

Like Colleen said, in spoken English you can say whichever makes sense to you or feels right in the moment. Either response would be perfectly natural.

It might be a little more common to say "I'm reading a book," as that is the action you were just doing and will (presumably) return to after the call ends. But if you keep getting interrupted, and you are getting annoyed about it and want to express your annoyance, you might say "Well, I was reading a book..." with emphasis on "was" to make it clear that you aren't right at this moment reading. That would be rather rude though. Simply saying "I was reading a book" with no special emphasis would not be rude.

  • So it's fine to say "I am reading" even though you are not reading at this exact moment? – anouk Mar 26 at 14:22
  • 1
    @anouk yes, it's fine in spoken and even written English. – randomhead Mar 26 at 14:37

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