Geoffrey Leech in his book states that Past Continuous requires an "anchor" to be used.(most of the times) around which it forms "temporal frame". "Anchor" validates the use of Past Continuous. I am trying to ascertain what types of anchors there are.

By "validating the use of Past Cont" I mean that these anchors will make my utterance self-sufficient and not requiring any additional sentences. If you notice that some utterances are not self-sufficient and require additional sentences please point that out because that means that this type of anchor doesn't work. These are the things (in bold) that I suspect serve as anchors:

  1. Very short period of time (or moment in time).

-Where were you at 10? -yesterday at 10 I was fixing my car

  1. When-clause with complete action or just a standalone complete action:

When I just joined the military, we were doing 100 sit-ups every day*

I got really bored on my way home because I was reading Shakespear

-How is Jack? - Last time I saw him, he was selling cars

In my 20s I was dreaming of becoming a lawyer and enrolled in law school

  1. regular action in past simple or past state

I had no money last year because I was working a dead-end job (past state)

Last year she played tennis every day because she was training for a big tournament (regular action in past)

"Questionable" anchors

  1. When-clause with regular action or with past state

when I was sick with Covid I was eating a lot of butter (When+past state)

When I worked at Google they were paying me $500" (when+regular action)

When I was on vacation I was swimming in the sea and eating fruits (when+past state)

  1. Adverb or adverbial phrase of time

In 2017 I was building my summer house

Last October I was fixing my car every day

Which of these anchors are not valid? (i.e. utterance requires another sentence to sound complete) Could you suggest any other anchors or tips?

1 Answer 1


If the 'anchor' is the time when the continuous action was happening, I would interpret those in (2) as: when I just (?first) joined the military - on my way home - last time I saw him - in my 20s.

I would say When I was on vacation I was swimming in the sea every day (otherwise it sounds as though you spent the entire time swimming!).

Incidentally, you could equally well use the simple past here and in the other examples in (4) and (5) - I swam every day - I fixed my car every day.

  • According to Leech, "anchor" doesn't equal time. It's a sentence or adverbial phrase that makes the use of Past Continuous possible I don't think "in my 20s" is an anchor, because I can't say "I was dreaming of becoming a lawyer in my 20's" it would sound unfinished and require me to add an event "so I enrolled in law school" (which IS an anchor) Could you tell me which of my sample sentences sound unfinished to your ear? As far as I understand at least all sentences in group 4 and 5 should sound unfinished and can't be used as standalone utterances. Jul 18, 2022 at 10:34
  • 1
    You can say When I was in my 20s, I dreamed/was dreaming of becoming a lawyer. I don't see anything wrong with 4 i and ii, and I've already commented about iii. The sentences in 5 are a bit odd - were you working on the summer house for the whole of the year? As a BrE speaker I would understand fix to mean put right which makes the sentence odd, but I was working on my car every day sounds OK. Jul 18, 2022 at 10:46
  • "When I was sick, I was eating a lot of butter" does it imply "all the time" aswell? Like I "was working on my summer house last year" implies "the whole year") Jul 18, 2022 at 12:05
  • 1
    I didn't exactly say that, just that it sounded odd without further qualification - In 2017 I was building my summer house for most of June and July, so I didn't take a holiday until August, for example. Jul 18, 2022 at 13:27

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