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Question :
Last night, while they (sleep), a burglar broke into their house.

Answer A :
Last night, while they slept, a burglar broke into their house.

Or

Answer B :
Last night, while they was sleeping, a burglar broke into their house.

I want to tell someone about last night. I want to know whether it is correct or not to talk about the past used with while grammar. Past simple or past continuous, which is more appropriate to combine with while?

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  • The first part isn't a question.
    – KillingTime
    Aug 6 at 12:51
  • This type of question should be posted to English Language Learners, not here, but would require your own attempt to answer it. SE does not exist as a free homework service.
    – David
    Aug 6 at 12:55
  • It is not homework.
    – Ko Naing
    Aug 6 at 13:11
  • 1
    This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question. See: Details, Please. Aug 6 at 13:26
  • 1
    Hello Ko Naing and welcome to ELL! On this site, we expect people asking questions to have done some research on their own before asking. So please edit your question to tell us what you found, what you already know about the different tenses and what you're still unsure about
    – gotube
    Aug 6 at 14:34

1 Answer 1

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  • (A) Last night, while they slept, a burglar broke into their house.Green Check, showing valid form
  • (B) Last night, while they was sleeping, a burglar broke into their house. Res X, showing invalid form
  • (C) Last night, while they were sleeping, a burglar broke into their house. Green Check, showing valid form

Sentences (A) and (C) are grammatically valid. Sentence (B) is not. This is because "was" is a singular form, and does not agree with "they". The plural form "were" is needed instead.

(It is possible that sentence B is using "singular they", although no context shows this to be the case. Confusions of this sort are one reason I dislike and will not normally use singular they. However, it is valid and increasingly commonly used, and one must recognize it.)

Constructions with "while" can be used with the simple past (and also the simple present) as well as with continuous forms. In this case sentence (A) and sentence (C) have essentially identical meanings. the difference being one of style. It might be that one or the other better fits the rest of the text in which the sentence is included.

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