What are the difference between:

  1. I drank my liquor when I ate my meal.

  2. I drank my liquor when I was eating my meal.


The word when as a conjunction is used to mean at or during the time something happens or after/as soon as something happens.

Taking these senses into consideration, I think that there's a difference in meaning between these sentences.

The sentence #1 is a bit ambiguous in its meaning. It may mean the same thing as the sentence #2, that is, I drank my liquor at or during the time I ate/was eating my meal, and it may also mean that I drank my liquor after/as soon as I ate my meal.

On the other hand, the sentence #2 has a clear meaning; the action of drinking took place during the time I was eating my meal.

  • "I drank when I ate" is simultaneous. To drink after eating: "I drank when I had eaten", or "I drank when I finished eating.
    – Peter
    Feb 8 '16 at 9:03
  • 1
    Most of the dictionaries say when is also used in the sense of as soon as, after, just after the time something happens. For examples, I'll call you when I get there. When he got a job, things were better. I found it easily when looked for it seriously.
    – Khan
    Feb 8 '16 at 11:37
  • When also means at or during the time. What do the sentences: "I came home when I ate lunch" or "I called you when I had dinner" mean to you?
    – Peter
    Feb 8 '16 at 12:16
  • 1
    I came home just after/as soon as I ate lunch. I called you at the time that/during the time that/after the time that/as soon as I had dinner.
    – Khan
    Feb 8 '16 at 12:54
  • "I came home when I ate lunch" is coming home while eating lunch, not easy to do, i.e. walking and eating. "I came home after I ate lunch" is what you are thinking of. "I ate lunch when I came home" is eating lunch after I got home. "I called you when I had dinner" is calling you during dinner, "I was having dinner when I called you" is the same. A bit confusing, I know. From a dictionary standpoint, you are correct to understand the way you do, but it doesn't always get used that way.
    – Peter
    Feb 8 '16 at 13:12

They both mean the same thing: that you ate and drank at essentially the same time.

Neither sentence specifies a more exact time order between the two activities.

  • @Ust There is a good reason that you wanted to associate a continuous tense with an interrupted action. Are you interested in discussing such things in a chatroom sometimes? It can give those of us who like to learn and talk about such things a more useful discussion! Feb 8 '16 at 4:34
  • I was rated -1. I thought my answer about the use of past continuous was right. Since no comment was received. I deleted my answer.
    – Schwale
    Feb 8 '16 at 13:56
  • @Ust Your answer was not correct, but we sometimes use continuous forms to establish "background" time periods that are interrupted by other events or states. Click "chat" below, and come into Language Overflow if you might enjoy talking about it! Feb 8 '16 at 14:06
  • I don't have much time to go into the chat. Instead, I'd like people to leave a comment in my answer so that I can improve it.
    – Schwale
    Feb 8 '16 at 14:18
  • @Ist Well, often, a real-time conversation takes much less time, so we can see if we're on the same page, and maybe help each other get there if we're not. Also, comments can stay and clutter up pages forever if we don't remember to delete them. Let me try here... Feb 8 '16 at 14:28

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