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I'm really curious what difference do native speakers conceive in these two sentences:

(She joined our firm ten years ago.) She had worked for the previous five years with an advertising company. vs. She had been working for the previous five years with an advertising company.

These are sentences taken from a book with grammar exercises and the key gives these two options. Is there any difference in the meaning?

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You may find English Language Learners more useful for this question –  jwpat7 Apr 8 '13 at 17:36

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

...had worked...

This is in the past perfect tense.

...had been working...

This is in the past perfect continuous tense. The latter means she had been working continuously with an advertising company for the past 5 years. The first does not necessarily mean her work with the advertising company was uninterrupted over the five years.

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Thank you very much! Is it possible to apply the same explanation also to these two sentences: "For the first eight years with us she worked / was working in the Sales Department" and "Since then she has worked / has been working as my personal assistant." ? –  szop Apr 8 '13 at 17:38
    
For the first one, "worked" is past tense and "was working" is past continuous tense, so yes. In the second one, the verbs are in the same tenses as those in the original question. So, yes. :) –  4rkain3 Apr 8 '13 at 18:02

She had worked for the previous five years with an advertising company, it shows an action that start in the past and just finished

She had been working for the previous five years with an advertising company , shows the duration of an action that was in progress before another action in the past

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How can the first action be said to have just finished if it happened five years ago? Note the question says: (She joined our firm ten years ago.) –  Mari-Lou A Aug 7 at 5:29

(She joined our firm ten years ago.) She had worked for the previous five years with an advertising company. vs. She had been working for the previous five years with an advertising company.

This is one of those situations in which there is no practical difference in meaning between the two forms. Let's consider three points:

  1. Continuous/progressive forms "express the speaker's view of the event as having limited duration... Non-continuous forms express the speaker's view of the event a a complete, unitary whole"(Michael Lewis,The English Verb, 1986.97).

  2. With perfect forms, the "fundamental meaning is that the speaker is looking back" (Lewis, p 97) over a period of time; the time period itself, if not the action, has duration and we know that duration is limited, because we know the end-point.

  3. The semantic content of some verbs implies durativity, "the given situations lasts for a certain period of time", (Comrie, Aspect, 1976.41). The activity of working is inherently of much greater duration than that of, for example, coughing.

The past perfect (implying duration of time) progressive (implying duration of activity of the verb WORK (which is a durative activity) therefore shows three markers of duration. The non-progressive form shows two. It is possible to see the non-progressive form as implying duration less strongly but, in practical terms, "there appears to be a free choice" (Lewis, p 95).

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"She had worked for the previous five years with an advertising company" means that she had worked there for 5 years but was not working there anymore.

"She had been working for the previous five years with an advertising company" means that she had worked there for 5 years and was still continuing to work there.

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This distinction ceases to be correct after the sentence "She joined our firm five years ago". –  Peter Shor Apr 8 '13 at 17:55
    
I disagree, they still mean the same thing. –  Henrique Ordine Apr 8 '13 at 17:58

In my view.. (She joined our firm ten years ago and still working) 1. She had worked for the previous five years: It is Past perfect tense 2. She had been working for the previous five years: It is Past Perfect continuous

above both perfect tenses mean: She is not working now.

So we should use Present perfect Continuous tense

Ans: She has been working for 10 years.

Thanks.

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I'm afraid this is wrong. Changing the tense so drastically also changes the meaning drastically. Note that the question indicates that it is describing working for the previous company, up to a point ten years ago, and for whom she is indeed no longer working. –  Andrew Leach 2 days ago

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