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I had been waiting for you

I waited for you

we had been sleeping

we slept

what is main difference between these sentences? And when to use Simple Past and when to use Past Perfect Continuous?

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  • Hello, i'm confused about these two tenses when i should use Past simple and when i should use Past Perfect continuous. This question might be little stupid, but I would much appreciate it if anyone can come up with a good answer.. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 12:48
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    Context determines which tense applies. There are many questions here about this topic.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 12:55
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    @ElbertShakespeare Welcome to ELL! On one hand, you question, though it includes some specific examples, is essentially about the difference between the past simple and the past perfect tenses, and thus it's rather broad to answer completely. On the other hand, we already have this great post: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/13255/…, which explains the perfect aspect of English in depth. I recommend reading it. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 13:13
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    BTW, this question is not stupid at all. It's one of the most common problems most English language learners have. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 13:16
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    Does this answer your question? Canonical Post #2: What is the perfect, and how should I use it?
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 10 at 18:29

2 Answers 2

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All of these sentences can be correct depending on the context.

We use past simple tense to refer to an event that happened at a specific time and has now finished.

We use (any form of) past continuous tense to refer to an event that happened over a duration and has now finished. We also use it when we want to say that something else happened during this event.

Here are your examples in a context where they might make sense

I had been waiting for you for 10 minutes when a thief stole my backpack.

Here we would use the continuous form because we are establishing a time frame during which a different event happened.

I waited for you for 10 minutes. When you didn't arrive, I left.

Here we use the simple form because the next action/event happened after the first one finished.

We had been sleeping in tents for 2 weeks by the time the house's roof was built.

Here we use the continuous form because the next action/event (the roof being built) happened during the first event.

We slept for 8 hours. We feel so rested!

Here we use the simple form because the next event (feeling rested) comes after the first event.

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We use different past tenses to describe moments and periods of time in the past.

LOOK!

When Andrea arrived at work at 9.30 am......

----------8.30 am----------9.00 am----------9.30 am----------10.00 am----------

1) When Andrea arrived at work at 9.30, she could see the post over her desk. Her secretary had opened it before she came. (The secretary opened the post between 8.00 am am and 9.00 am, in a distant past)

2) When Andrea arrived at work at 9.30, her secretary was opening the post. (The action is happening at 9.30)

3) When Andrea arrived at work at 9.30, her secretary opened the post. (The action finished between 8.00 am and 9.25 am)

Your question isn't silly at all.

Remember!

The Past Simple tells a story in chronological order...

Sue met Pete at university. They were together for six years. They divorced last month.

... while Past Perfect can be used to tell a story in a different order.

Sue and Pete divorced last month. They had met at university, and had been together for six years.

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