This sentence is from "Longman Advanced Learner's Grammar" by Mark Foley and Diane Hall. Is it wrong to use the past progressive in this example?

Ramses II was ruling/ruled over ancient Egypt for more than fifty years.

Or in a similar example:

By the middle of the nineteen sixties many parts of Europe experienced/were experiencing a tremendous economic boom.


It's usual to use the past tense when referring to the length of time that somebody did something.

He worked for more than eight hours without a stop.
She ruled the country for 30 years.
They swam for several hours to reach the shore.

But when you are looking back on a period or an event, especially when you are telling a story and trying to bring events to life, the past progressive works better. It has a more dramatic feel to it:

By the turn of the century, many people were succumbing to the plague.
By the time the fire service arrived, people on the balconies were calling for help.
By then the seas were pounding against the cliffs.

In your examples, 1 definitely requires the past tense. No 2 takes either tense, but the past progressive fits the context better.

  • Thank you both for your answers. I had no idea that the past progressive can suggest that: "was ruling" would be limited to a particular portion of the lands so ruled." Can it also be used to refer to temporary or limited actions just like the present progressive? For example, "He was working in the bank" temporary or limited duration. "She was studying French" "he was studying at school." May 4 at 4:38

I would expect "ruled" when speaking of the length of time of a monarch's reign. The "was ruling" would be limited to a particular portion of the lands so ruled. "By his twenty-third year King X was ruling over Lower Brat in addition to the traditional lands of the Phart. In total he ruled for nearly forty years." (entirely fictional names, used only to illustrate the language)

In the second case either "experienced" or "were experiencing" could work.

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