What is the difference in meaning between these 2 sentences:

  1. He did not answer because he had been thinking of his holidays.
  2. He did not answer because he was thinking of his holidays.

I think #1 means that he had finished thinking and then he could not answer, and I think #2 means that he was still thinking.

Am I wrong?

  • 3
    The past perfect version (had been thinking), means that he was thinking about his holidays at some earlier point in time (before the time when he didn't answer). By implication, something about those earlier thoughts caused him not to answer later (a rather strange situation, so you probably don't want to say that). The simple past (was thinking) simply means he didn't answer because at the time his mind was elsewhere. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 19 '15 at 17:28
  • You are absolutely correct. Which makes the second sentence a bit odd semantically, although there is nothing wrong grammatically (despite what Lucian Sava implies.) As FumbleFingers said, The problem the reader has is this: if, in that past moment, he was finished thinking of his holidays, why could he not answer? – Brian Hitchcock Apr 20 '15 at 6:39
  • the question is quite misleading. Past perfect continuous or past progressive – XPMai Apr 20 '15 at 20:26
  1. He didn't answer because he had been thinking of his holidays.

  2. He didn't answer because he was thinking of his holidays.

Both the sentences are grammatically correct and show an ongoing action in the past, with a little difference in meaning.

The sentence #1 indicates the happening of the earlier action (thinking) over a period of time; it started before the time of the latter action (didn't answer) and continued up to that time. On the other hand, the sentence #2 indicates that the action of thinking happened exactly at/around the time of the action "didn't answer"; two actions hapenning at the same time.

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