Even though I understand the difference between the simple and the continuous aspect of the English tense system, I sometimes struggle to understand what each of these two aspects expresses in some past and future contexts. Let me give you some examples.


When I was a teenager I sometimes called my father
When I was a teenager I sometimes was calling my father


This is the last time we are seeing each other. I will sometimes call you
This is the last time we are seeing each other. I will be sometimes calling you


In 1994 I worked for two weeks
In 1994 I was working for two weeks


Yesterday I worked all night
Yesterday I was working all night

I get the meaning expressed by the past simple and the future simple in the above example sentences but I`m not feeling the continuous. Could you tell me what meaning does the continuous aspect convey in those?

1 Answer 1


Taking sentences out of context removes a lot of clues to their actual meaning which is perhaps why nobody else has tried to answer this, but here goes.

  1. Calling my father. It's difficult to imagine a context where the continuous aspect would be needed although it might be possible whereas the simple aspect communicates the idea very clearly.

  2. Calling you. The first phrase is once again much more natural reflecting the function of "will" as a promise. The second phrase, while possible, seems forced and unlikely. It could maybe suggest that the calling you is something programmed and previously decided. Even the first phrase "This is the last time we are seeing each other" might be more natural if we used "will" - "this is the last time we'll see each other"

  3. and 4. In these cases both alternatives are perfectly correct and natural. The choice of which one to use will depend on many things. You really need more context to get a feel for why a speaker chooses one rather than the other. There can be differences in meaning. There can be simply differences in suggestion or emphasis.

In general continuous aspect can suggest process and change. It can also suggest the temporary nature of things. Sometimes the difference between simple and continuous aspect is minimal.

My advice to learners of English is to go for simple aspect in cases of doubt simply because it is used much more frequently than continuous aspect.

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