Look at theses sentences taken from an esl exercise:

In Nigeria, a three-year-old British girl has been reunited with her parents after being freed by kidnappers in southern Nigeria who had held her for four days.
Margaret Hill's parents, Mike and Oluchi Hill, said she was in good health but "covered in mosquito bites".

I don't understand why it is not "had been holding" as the emphasis is on the duration "for 4 days" not on the result. Am I wrong?

  • 2
    Personally, I'd be slightly more likely to say kidnappers who had been holding rather than kidnappers who had held, but it would be hopelessly misleading to suggest that the second version is in any way "wrong". And as it happens, if you check those links you'll find dozens of written instances of the second, but none at all for the version all three of us "prefer". Mar 29 '15 at 18:09

The way the verb to hold (hostage) is used in this sentence, is a form that already implies a long-term action, and as such does not require a continuous form to indicate this. Compare to 'The couple had lived in their apartment for eight years'; while this was obviously an ongoing action, the continuous is not required as to live already implies a long term!

Although you could say 'They had been living in their apartment for eight years', the same can sound odd to native English speakers when applied to 'had been holding', it sounds like you are referring to the short-term version of holding. To many people, it will sound like they were restraining her all the time; it paints a picture of a bunch of men holding on to this girl for four consecutive days.


To me 'had been holding' would sound more natural, yes!

(Native speaker, British English)


To me, I would go for held:

The child they had held for 4 days

sounds better than

The child they had been holding for 4 days

(BrE, native speaker)

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