I had an English test this morning and after my teacher graded it I was surprised that I had this question wrong. I filled the blank with were discussing and I know that for a fact that sounds, at least to me, correct. I was very surprised to find out that my teacher deducted points for that. I understand why you can put discussed there but her explanation to why she marked my sentence as wrong was something along the lines of "unproperly used grammar" . I am on the border between an excellent and a good mark and it depends only on that sentence. Can you please tell me if what I filled is right, cause to be honest I am not sure.

Any help will be greatly appreciated! Have a good one!

  • 1
    "unproperly" is also improper grammar, so I'm really not so sure about this teacher...
    – Esther
    Sep 21, 2022 at 14:10
  • [improperly: correction]. Since you are no longer a child, were discussing doesn't work very well. Usually it is used like this: We were discussing the problem when my brother came into the room.
    – Lambie
    Sep 21, 2022 at 14:17
  • Sorry Lambie but although your are right my grammar is still right, isn't it ?
    – Helixglich
    Sep 21, 2022 at 14:46
  • Using were discussing in the cited context is syntactically valid but idiomatically unlikely. We'd only be likely to use the Past Continuous here if we were adverbially modifying it, as in Even as children we were already discussing family problems with our parents (which I like better than Even as children we already discussed family problems... - but both are syntactically fine, obviously). Sep 21, 2022 at 16:57
  • This is something my boss does all the time, too. I continually find myself having to change his progressive tenses to simple past. Rule of thumb: unless you have a clear example from a native speaker that you're following, don't use the past progressive.
    – Martha
    Sep 21, 2022 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


This is an interesting question about a subtle difference. were discussing isn't exactly grammatically wrong, it just doesn't really make sense in this context and is not what a native speaker would say.

We use the past progressive (or continuous) tense in English to describe ongoing or unfinished actions. For example,

When my father arrived, I was sitting at the kitchen table.

Here, we use the past progressive because at the specific moment that my father arrived, the action of sitting was ongoing and unfinished. (Compare to "I sat", which would mean that I sat down at the moment my father arrived.)

You can also say things like

When I was a child, the buffalo were disappearing.

Here, "when I was a child" is obviously not a single moment, but were disappearing indicates an ongoing process.

In your example,

Even when we were children, our parents (discuss) family problems with us.

the action of discussing is not an ongoing process, it's simply a fact: they discussed it with us.


What I know is American English. Obviously, “were discussing” is a proper grammatical form in American English. But it is not all idiomatic in the given sentence.

The parents were not then, and presumably are not now, habitually discussing family problems, nor was it a continuous process over some specified period. It was something that happened on specific occasions in the past.

That is American English. I cannot speak for British English, but I have not found British usage of the continuous odd. I have heard speakers of Indian English use continuous tenses in situations where, to my American ears, the continuous sounds quite wrong.

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