A quote from a movie:

We were married for 10 years.

Why can we use the Past Simple tense for an action which had been taking place for a certain time? The emphasis is on the duration, so according to what I was taught it should be:

We had been married for 10 years.

When and why can we use the past simple tense instead of the past perfect continous.

It just doesn't seem right to me to say:

I was cleaning the windows for three hours.

  • Why shouldn't I tag my question as grammar-related? It refers to grammar. Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 13:36
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1 Answer 1


You use the simple past when speaking in the present. For instance, you're at a bar with a friend, and you see a woman and she waves at you. Your friend asks if you know her, and you say "Of course I know her - we were married for ten years." You say that because in that moment you are speaking in the present, using the present form know, about something that happened in the past and then ended.

However, if you and your friend are talking about your first marriage and how it ended, you would tell him the story in the past, using past forms:

"We were living in New York and I was always going out with other women. My wife found out and asked me for a divorce. We had been married for ten years."

Here, you use the past perfect because you're talking in the past about something that happened, or started happening, before that past, i.e. before the point in the past when your wife asked you for the divorce.

  • Does it mean that the fact that an action lasted for some time and finished in the past isn't enough to use the Past Perfect tense? Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 15:25
  • It is enough, as long as the context is already the past. For instance, in my account, the speaker's marriage lasted some time and ended, so he used the past perfect while speaking about the past. The past perfect can be viewed as a back story to something that happened in the past.
    – CocoPop
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 16:04

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