I was studying the past continuous in "Grammar in Use, Cambridge University Press" and I saw a sentence that is strange for me:

I was doing something: I was in the middle of doing something at a certain time. The action or situation had already started before this time, but had not finished.

Why didn't they say "The action or situation had already been started before this time, but had not been finished"?

  • 5
    Because the action can itself start and finish; it does not have to "be started" and "be finished" by an external agent. P.S. start and finish can be used both transitively and intransitively.
    – TimR
    Jun 7, 2016 at 17:05
  • 2
    Your question is actually about transitive versus intransitive verbs. The verbs "start" and "finish" can be used both transitively and intransitively for almost exactly the same meaning. The only difference between the two is the implication. In the first example (where "started" is intransitive), no indication about who or what caused the starting (or even if there was a cause) is given. In the second, it is implied that the "starting" was done by something.
    – G-Cam
    Jun 7, 2016 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


Both start and finish can be intransitive or transitive

The party will start at 8pm - intransitive

John will start school in September - transitive

The party finished after midnight - intransitive

John finished his drink and left - transitive

Note that what is starting or finishing moves from object to subject when you switch from intransitive to transitive.

It is perfectly ok to say "the action started..." or "the action finished".

  • 1
    A few minutes ago I was searching and I found something about intransitive and transitive verbs, but I was in doubt, but now I can understand... Thank you very much.
    – BugHunter
    Jun 7, 2016 at 17:11

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