0

It has been taken from a children's English study course.

"He looked at the children in front of him. He thought they were sneering at him as he stood there feeling foolish, so he ... (a suitable tense form of the verb "to smile" is to be inserted)... as he trudged to his desk and flung himself down in his chair."

In the test keys section is a one-valued answer adduced as the only right one. And it is "[he] didn't smile".

I clearly take in the point that with the verbs of durative meaning when attention is focused on the circumstances under which the action is performed the Past Continuous may be swapped for the Past Simple. And that is why the Past Simple has been brought in as an answer here. But I can't get my head over the Past Continuous to have been left out of the right answer options.

Considering the aforesaid, why has the Past Simple been made the only appropriate answer in: "...he didn't smile as he trudged...", whereas the Past Continuous appears to be correct (and it is, obviously) in: "He thought they were sneering at him as he stood...", which are very similar patterns, at least in my oppinion?

And would it be nevertheless correct to say: "...so he wasn't smiling as he trudged to his desk and flung himself down in his chair."?

6
  • I think past continuous is fine. Maybe the use of "as" suggests use of past simple? Are you asking us to guess why the writer of the course didn't mention it? Sometimes learning materials are graded based on the writer's opinion of "the best answer" instead of a list of acceptable answers.
    – Dan Getz
    Apr 5 at 13:19
  • @Dan Getz Thank you! I need the approach of the native speakers as to weather the usage of the Past Continuous is also correct. The problem is that if one ticks off "he wasn't smiling" then his mark will be definitely taken off (because a different answer variant is not provided for).
    – Eugene
    Apr 5 at 13:50
  • [more normal usage: This was taken from etc. ] whether, not weather. :)
    – Lambie
    Apr 5 at 14:13
  • @Lambie Shame on me :) I might have been thinking about whether the weather would clear up somehow sometime...
    – Eugene
    Apr 5 at 14:31
  • No, no, no, shame is much too strong. No worries. It happens to me too.
    – Lambie
    Apr 5 at 14:41

1 Answer 1

1

Yes, "he wasn't smiling as he walked to his desk" works as well. The difference is that did not (or didn't) and was not (or wasn't) can be used in slightly different settings.

To Do vs To Be

  • Didn't is the negated version of the past tense of the verb To Do. We use it when talking about a completed event or action that happened in the past.
  • Wasn't is the negated version of the past tense of the verb To Be. We use it when talking about a past state of being or continuous action.

The difference here is understanding what verbs are most often "events" and what verbs are most often "continuous actions." It is confusing in this example, because to smile can be either.

Saying didn't smile indicates that the act of smiling or not is being viewed as a single event. Meanwhile, saying wasn't smiling indicates that the act of smiling or not happened over a span of time.

In this context, both could be correct and would be understood to mean nearly the same thing.

Example Where it Makes a Difference

There are some instances where using a simple past like "didn't" does not mean the same thing as using a past continuous verb like "wasn't." Here is an example where it does matter:

The dog didn't bark when I knocked on the door. - this means that the dog did not bark at all, not even once in the immediate time around me knocking.

The dog wasn't barking when I knocked on the door. - this means that the dog was not continuously barking when I began to knock on the door. It is looser. The dog might have barked once or twice, but not in a pattern. Or the dog might have started barking right after I knocked.

2
  • Very cognitive and limpid answer! It has just dawned upon me that it could have been so in the author's mind that the boy (as you rightly put it up in your answer) "did not smile at all, not even once in the immediate time around his trudging to his desk" because the gloomy situation itself had been vindicating it. But this implication is so complicated for the children to get wise to, that such test assignments simply don't make sense unless they are contrived purposely to flunk students on exams.
    – Eugene
    Apr 5 at 14:28
  • @Eugene I agree - any language education course should acknowledge that every question has multiple right answers Apr 5 at 14:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .