The crowd listened to Paul until he said this.

Shouldn't it be "had been listening"?

The action "the crowd listened" preceded the action "Paul said" and the listening must have taken some time.

Why, in one case, you say "They had been walking outside until the weather turned bad" and in another case you say the first part of the sentence using the simple past tense?

How do I choose between the two tenses, the past perfect continuous and the simple past?

  • 4
    You could just as well say "They walked outside until the weather turned bad". It depends whether you are describing what happened or looking back on it from a later time. Apr 21, 2021 at 13:42
  • @KateBunting Sorry, I can't see the difference between "describing what happened" and "looking back from a later time". What do you mean?
    – Let
    Apr 21, 2021 at 15:04
  • 2
    "They walked outside until the weather turned bad, then they took shelter in the house" describes the events in the order in which they happened. "They had been walking outside until the weather [had] turned bad, but now they were sitting round the fire talking" shows the reader the characters sitting indoors and then reports what they did earlier. Apr 21, 2021 at 15:44
  • 2
    English speakers often do not use the "past in the past" when the temporal relationships are clear without it. We can do, especially when we want to set the temporal focus to some later point; but we don't have to.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 20, 2021 at 21:45

1 Answer 1


For what it is worth, I intuit this has to do with listening being a continuous activity— thus warranting a progressive tense. For this reason the past perfect tense as well as the past continuous tense is the proper tense. Of course meanings of these two tensed versions differ.

This is not to say listening would never take the past simple. Specifically, this means it's restricted to a point in time only. A person might say to another person I listened to you the last time, now you should listen to me.

I think the bottom line is that tenses can be tricky as there can be overlap at times.

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