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What's the difference in meaning between the following sentences? Does the first mean the fans were not absolutely crazy yet, just as John was not dead yet in "John was dying"?

The fans were going absolutely crazy.

The fans went absolutely crazy.

Some natives told me the two mean the same, but that contradicts what I know about the simple past and the past progressive.

What I learned is that combing punctual predicates with the progressive aspect yields an imminence reading.

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    Does this answer your question? Simple Past Vs Past Continuous Jul 30, 2023 at 2:37
  • If your "narrative reference time" remains "extended" at that point in past time (you're talking about multiple things going on at the same time) OR to give a sense of "immediacy" to your narrative, you might want to use Past Continuous. But by default, as ever, simplest is usually best. Jul 30, 2023 at 2:42
  • Note also that the sentences are figurative.
    – Apollyon
    Jul 30, 2023 at 2:45
  • And lexical aspect, or Aktionsart, plays a role too.
    – Apollyon
    Jul 30, 2023 at 2:49
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    If your narrative has already reached the point in time when the fans had started to be crazy (especially if you're going to continue talking about other stuff happening then, and/or the craziness was extended), you say what they were doing (while other things were happening). If your narrative is just reaching that point in time (and perhaps likely to move on to subsequent events in the next sentence) you say what they did (after doing something earlier, and before doing something that came later). Jul 30, 2023 at 2:52

3 Answers 3

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In practice, the two sentences mean the same thing.

Yes, grammatically, "were going crazy" means they were in the process of becoming crazy, while "went crazy" means they completed this action in the past.

But in practice, it doesn't make any difference. No one is drawing a distinction between being actually being crazy, and being in the process of becoming crazy but maybe not actually be there yet.

There are certainly examples where such a distinction would be important. Like, "Fred was becoming a good football player" would mean he was in the process, but wasn't actually there yet. As opposed to "Fred became a good football player" indicates he has achieved the goal.

But in this case, the distinction doesn't matter.

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  • The distinction doesn't matter because it's figurative in this case?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 30, 2023 at 12:50
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    When I read the two examples, I feel the difference. "Went crazy" is more sudden, like exploding from silence into thunderous applause. "Were going crazy" doesn't have the same connotations of being a sudden/instant transformation
    – minseong
    Jul 30, 2023 at 14:29
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    The fans "went crazy" definitely suggests a sudden outburst of excitement. The fans "were going crazy" means the excitement was ongoing at the time. They can even be used together. "The fans were going crazy with anticipation as they waited for the show to start. Then when Bubba Thudpucker walked on stage, they went crazy to a whole new level."
    – barbecue
    Jul 30, 2023 at 16:58
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In this context, it's the same difference as between "they were eating salad" and "they ate salad".

You seem to be confusing the two meanings of "go crazy":

1 : to become mentally unsound
I must be going crazy. I can't find my car keys anywhere.

2 : to act in a way that is out of control : to act wildly
We were just talking when he suddenly went crazy and started screaming.
The crowd went crazy when the team won the championship.

The first definition refers to a gradual change in mental faculties, not to any behaviour. The second refers to wild behaviour, not to mental faculties.

Fans "going crazy" nearly always uses to the second definition. It doesn't mean anything gradual happens to them, but that fans behave in an uncontrolled way, which is typically screaming, waving hands in the air, jumping up and down, etc. This behaviour is typically sudden, not gradual, say when the pop star first appears on stage or when a favourite song starts.

So the only difference between your first and second sentences is the timeline during which the fans scream and such. Did it happen at a moment the past, or did was hit happening over a span of time in the past?

a. I was at a Taylor Swift concert and the fans were going absolutely crazy the whole time!
b. Taylor Swift came on stage and the fans went absolutely crazy!

Sentence (a) focuses on a span of time during which the fans went absolutely crazy. Sentence (b) is part of a narrative of what happened at a finished time in the past, same as the "salad" examples above.

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  • Does the second definition you quoted have an inchoative reading?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 30, 2023 at 4:03
  • @Apollyon I'm not confident enough in my use of the word "incohative" to add it to my answer, but in a comment, sure: the first definition is incohative, while the second is not. The first definition means a gradual change of mental state from healthy to unhealthy. The second definition describes an action like "scream and throw your hands in the air", which I don't believe qualifies as incohative.
    – gotube
    Jul 30, 2023 at 4:19
  • Doesn't the "went" in the example sentences of the second definition mean "became"?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 30, 2023 at 4:55
  • @Apollyon The second meaning stems from the first, as in, someone who suddenly starts screaming is acting as if they've become crazy, but no, the second definition doesn't carry the meaning of becoming anything, just doing.
    – gotube
    Aug 1, 2023 at 6:45
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In practicality, the two sentences basically mean the same thing. They're just the same word/phrase in different tenses.

The fans were going absolutely crazy

This first one is in imperfect past tense which describes past actions or events that don't have a specific end date. It describes a past event which is being completed.

The fans went absolutely crazy

This second one is in perfect past tense which describes past actions or events that have already been completed.

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