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Please have a look at this

I stood in front of the living room, watching the movie unfold on the tv screen while my mom and sister - whose idea it was to watch the film in the first place - sat behind me, on the couch, gasping and chuckling.

Why it is not were sitting - because we can suppose that the sitting ends with the end of the film?

  • Perhaps they changed their position. – V.V. Jan 17 '16 at 7:42
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    Nice question. You stood watching while they sat gasping. Seems fine. – lurker Jan 17 '16 at 7:58
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    The word sit can work both as a "stative verb" and as a "dynamic verb", so the usage in your quotation is correct. – CowperKettle Jan 17 '16 at 8:02
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    BTW, "on the TV screen" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 18 '16 at 12:19
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The word sit can work both as a "stative verb" and as a "dynamic verb", so the usage in your quotation is correct.

Note one other word:

I stood in front of the living room, watching the movie unfold at the tv screen while my mom and sister - whose idea it was to watch the film in the first place - sat behind me, on the couch, gasping and chuckling.

This while indicates that during the time you stood in front of the living room, your mom and sister sat (or were sitting).

Neither with sat nor with were sitting would the sentence indicate that their sitting ended with the end of the film. The sentence merely indicates the simultaneous nature of your standing (and paying attention to the screen) and their sitting.

For all we know, they might have been sitting on that couch all day: prior to the start of the film, during the film, and after the film has ended.


P.S. Having read lurker's comment,

You stood watching while they sat gasping. Seems fine.

it might be that Past Tense + ing reads more nicely than the repetitive ing + ing (I was standing watching).

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  • So why not I was standing in front of the living room, watching the movie while my mom and sister were sitting Any difference in the meaning? – user5577 Jan 17 '16 at 8:18
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    @user5577 - there might be some slight difference, but both forms are okay and to me they both look largely the same. Maybe the ing form will be more often used to stress the temporary nature of this standing – CowperKettle Jan 17 '16 at 8:23
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    When speaking (i.e.as distinct from writing) most native speakers would say "I was standing...and they were sitting". Though stood...sat is fine. With its parenthetic remark, the example in the OP strikes me as a written text. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 18 '16 at 12:14
  • So why it is better in a written text to use past simple than past continuous any reason? – user5577 Jan 18 '16 at 17:55
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    @user5577: it isn't in all cases better. If one were trying to reflect the spoken idiom for whatever reason, in a story, say, then the progressive, as the tense most speakers would use in conversation, would be an apt choice; but if one were trying to be succinct in a written statement of fact, the simple past would do. It mainly has to do with whether in a given context it is relevant to emphasize the ongoing aspect of the action, or not. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 18 '16 at 19:09

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