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We were waiting for an hour.
We had been waiting for an hour when she finally came.
we were waiting for an hour when she finally came.

what's the difference in these sentences?

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  • Semantically, the only difference is the extra information in the when- clause of the second and third examples. Idiomatically, Past Perfect (#2) is more likely with waiting for an hour, but Simple Past would be more likely with a different verb element, such as We were sitting in the garden when she arrived. Perhaps someone else will explain why the default tense choice changes there. Probably to do with the fact that perforce the waiting ends when she arrives, but the sitting could continue. Commented Feb 25 at 12:05
  • @FumbleFingers What I meant to understand is that when to use “we were waiting for an hour” and “we had been waiting for an hour”, that’s why I asked the difference.
    – hwkal
    Commented Feb 25 at 12:45
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    The first two are correct, the third isn't. Commented Feb 25 at 14:06
  • The last example is strange because of the use of "when" and a period of time spent waiting. It's as if you are saying she arrived during the time period you were waiting, which is odd. It's not clear that the waiting finished when she arrived. Were you waiting for her, or did she interrupt the wait for something else, and then the waiting conitnued? I would avoid this construction.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Feb 25 at 14:51
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    Does this answer your question? before, when and past-perfect Commented Feb 25 at 16:36

1 Answer 1

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  • The first sentence is more general and lacks a connection to another event.
  • The second sentence emphasizes the duration of the waiting and its completion before a specific event, adding a sense of anticipation and relief when the event occurs.
  • The third sentence focuses on the action of waiting as it was happening up until the event occurred, without the same emphasis on the duration's completion before the event.

Each sentence tells us a similar story with slight shifts in focus, whether it's the simple fact of waiting, the buildup to her arrival, or the timing of the events.

Hope this helps hwkal :)

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    Hm, I'm not sure we can justify the third sentence. Commented Feb 25 at 22:48
  • @AndyBonner: Suppose the context is that "we" have one of those cars whose anti-theft alarm has been activated. We've tried to follow the instructions in the owner's handbook for turning off the alarm, but we keep getting it wrong, and each time we get it wrong, the enforced delay before we can try again doubles. Over the years, I've had this problem several times with Vauxalls (because the process is complicated, not because I'm an idiot! :) Further suppose that "she" is a grease-monkey or locksmith, and we only called her out when the "doubled up wait time" reached 64 minutes! Commented Feb 26 at 18:00

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