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There are actions that are spread over time, to snore or to play tennis for example. For me it is not always clear should I use Past Simple or Past Continuous for such actions. For me it is absolutely clear that I should use Past Continuous when the action is happening around some explicit or implicit point of time.

We were walking home when I met Dan

or

We were playing tennis at 10 a.m.

But this is not so clear when I don't have even implicit point of time. I've seen examples where Past Simple was used like

-What did you do yesterday morning? -I played tennis.

and I've also seen examples where Past Continuous was used like

You were snoring last night.

What would change in the meaning if I changed the sentences above to be like

-What were you doing yesterday morning? -I was playing tennis.

and

You snored last night.

I've also found example where both tenses were used for the same sentence. This table is from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/past-continuous-or-past-simple.

Doctors were treating patients in temporary beds and they were trying to do their best in a difficult situation. Past continuous: writer chooses to show the events as ongoing at that time in the past.
Doctors treated patients in temporary beds and they tried to do their best in a difficult situation. Past simple: writer chooses to show the events as finished.

To be honest, explanations in the right column are not completly clear for me and all my attempts to reduce all this to some well-defined system have failed. I can't decide what tense to choose in sentences like the ones I wrote above. I wonder how the thought process of native speakers is built when they choose tense in situations like this.

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  • The explanations in the table hit on an important point: "the writer chooses to show". Often there is more than one way to say the same thing, and the choice is used to emphasize some aspect of it. I think in that sense the explanations in the table do give an answer to your question. (Note for example how I chose "do give" instead of "give" to emphasize that this was a foreknown possibility.)
    – Dan Getz
    Feb 8, 2023 at 23:12
  • @DanGetz thank you for your comment. And yet the writer makes a choice. I wonder how he makes this choice.
    – user341
    Feb 9, 2023 at 9:21
  • You snored last night could mean that the sleeper snored only once, but it's much more likely that they were snoring for some time! Feb 9, 2023 at 10:04
  • @user341 by knowing the difference between the two options, and then picking one based on that? The table you found explains the difference. Is there something in particular you find confusing about the explanation in the table?
    – Dan Getz
    Feb 9, 2023 at 11:23
  • @DanGetz it is not clear for me what is the semantic difference between the sentences in the table. You wrote in your first comment that the choice is used to emphasize some aspects. So I asked how native speakers make this choice to understand these aspects and the difference between the sentences in the table. This way I can use Past Simple or Past Continuous more confidently.
    – user341
    Feb 9, 2023 at 14:17

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