1. It rained at noon.
  2. It was raining at noon.

  3. I slept at 5 o'clock yesterday.

  4. I was sleeping at 5 yesterday.

Actually, I seem to understand progressive quite well. But what is about the correct use of the past?

  • there isn't really a difference between them and you could use any of them in all situations :) – user19273 Apr 28 '15 at 13:59
  • @alice That's not actually the case. – user230 Apr 28 '15 at 21:16

1 and 3 apply to events which happened at those times. They could have been instantaneous events, or events of a short duration. So "it rained at noon" would mean that there was a short rainstorm at noon. (I don't really like the phrase "I slept at 5 o'clock" because sleep isn't a short duration event. I much prefer "I fell asleep at 5 o'clock".)

2 and 4 refer to continuous events over a period of time, where the time mentioned falls within that period.

  • Thanks for the nice explanation. So, would it be correct to say: at some specific time I started to talk to somebody or i still was continuing to talk to? Is it the same idea about: at that moment i went out and i was still going to leave? – gerol2000 Apr 22 '15 at 13:05
  • Both "at noon" and "at 5pm" can mean the beginning of a duration of time and are commonly used as such (I eat lunch at noon and I ate dinner at 5pm). This answer does not address the real issue behind the sentences in the original post. – user6951 Apr 22 '15 at 13:20
  • @pazzo - They can do, yes. But as a native speaker I really take exception to "I slept at 5 o'clock" - it just sounds wrong. – AndyT Apr 22 '15 at 13:24
  • 2
    We often use the simple past with a time to describe events that have a short duration. They don't have to be instantaneous. I think in general the length of the event has to be relatively short compared to the unit of time. If a conversation lasted for only a few minutes, "I talked to him at 3 o'clock" would be an appropriate statement. If it lasted for hours, I doubt you'd use the simple past. But "I talked to him yesterday" would work even if the conversation lasted all day. "I played football last year" could mean one specific occasion, or many games spread out over the year. – Jay Apr 22 '15 at 21:23
  • 3
    So yeah, "I slept at 5 o'clock" seems like a very unlikely statement, "I took a quick nap at 5 o'clock" would be possible. – Jay Apr 22 '15 at 21:24

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