Let's suppose my friend missed a lecture by our professor Mr. Johnson today and he (my friend) wants to find out how it was.

  • How was the lecture?
  • Not much, Mr Johnson was telling jokes, so we learned nothing.

As far as I understand, Past Continuous ("was telling") is preferable here because it provides context or background info for main events ("we learned nothing).

Which would be more natural here: was telling jokes or told jokes? Or they are both equally natural in this context?

  • The continuous tense suggests that a large part of the lecture consisted of jokes, which corresponds with students claiming to have 'learned nothing'. If he had just told a few jokes, it might have helped them to remember the serious points he was making! Jul 15, 2022 at 17:06
  • Thank you! would it be it natural to answer with Simple Past here? - "He told jokes, so we learned nothing"? Jul 15, 2022 at 17:10
  • 1
    Aside: "Not much" is not a reasonable response to "How was the lecture?". The question asks for an assessment, but "not much" is a quantity.
    – gotube
    Jul 15, 2022 at 17:37
  • No - I meant to imply that "He told jokes" (unless you specified "all the time" or similar) would probably be understood to mean just that he told some jokes to liven up his lecture. Jul 16, 2022 at 7:08

1 Answer 1


Continuous is correct.

"He told jokes, so we learned nothing" suggests that we learned nothing at all during the entire lecture because he told jokes --perhaps very few-- at some point, not necessarily throughout the lecture. Continuous suggests that the professor was mostly telling jokes.

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