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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
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2 Answers

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
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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
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