I can't remember to hear "I hoped..." in any movie I've watched. I always hear "I was hoping..." when people talk. Nevertheless I know both forms are correct in terms of grammar. So when "I hoped" is more proper then "I was hoping" and vice versa?

  • 3
    I ate, I was eating - what is the difference? Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 7:26

6 Answers 6


In typical narratives about past events the past simple is the default tense. However, if the speaker wishes to convey the ongoing nature of the past action or state, then the past continuous can be used. For example:

In the days before the wedding I was hoping that the weather would be good.

You might also have encountered the past continuous more often because it is commonly used as a stock phrase to formulate a polite request.

I was hoping you could lend me some money

is more tentative than:

Can you lend me some money?

  • I see. That is why I often hear "I was hoping" in typical movies, because characters just talk during the film and narratives are not so frequent as in books. I hope my thinking is correct ;-).
    – AEterna
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 6:06
  • Yes, I'm pretty sure your thinking is correct. You could confirm your hypothesis by noting the context next time you hear the expression in a film or real life.
    – Shoe
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 6:21
  • By "it is commonly used as a stock phrase ...", do you mean to imply that with overuse it has become trite or cliched? Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 17:57
  • @HeWhoMustBeNamed. No, it doesn't strike me as trite, but as tentative and indirect, It's similar to I was wondering (if I could speak to the boss). The term for this is "deferential backshift": english.stackexchange.com/questions/123038/…
    – Shoe
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 19:22

Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press,1995 252 (3)special uses of past tenses We can use "I was hoping"... to introduce a polite request. e.g.I was hoping you could lend me some money.


"I had hoped"... is used to talk about hopes that were not realised---hopes for things that did not happen. e.g.I had hoped that Jennifer would become a doctor, but she wasn't good enough at science.


"I hoped" and "I was hoping" are almost interchangeable, however there is a slight tendency for "I hoped" to indicate a more fundamental and longer term desire than "I was hoping" which has a tendency to indicate something more immediate and transitory.

For example one would probably say "When I chose to study accountacy and business practice I hoped for a career in the financial sector" but go on to say "When I applied to PWC I was hoping to be taken on as a graduate trainee".

Another example would be "As a twenty-something I hoped to find a loving wife some day" as opposed to "As our wedding day approached I was hoping that the weather would be fine". The first is longer term, more fundamental and more abstract whereas the second is more shorter term, more concrete and more specific.

However these are slight differences in emphasis, not hard and fast rules.


I would like to comment on the usage of "I AM HOPING"...beware of stative verbs !!!

These verbs are NOT to be used in the Present Continuous/Progressive form save for the some that change their meanings: e.g. I see you ( I am looking at you at the moment) vs I am seeing Jane ( = I am meeting ) today.


'I had hoped', 'I was hoping', I am hoping, and I hoped are all just different ways of saying the same thing. It is all just different phrasing. When speaking you can use the past or present tense because you can only hope up unto the point of knowing.

  • I'm sorry the examples you have given are not "different ways" of saying the same thing. They are different tenses, or if you prefer, times that specifically tell us when the action happened. A different way of saying "I hope" might be "I want" or "I wish".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 7:49
  • Incorrect. They may sometimes all refer to the same circumstances, but they mean different things. -1
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 10:18
  • No, Mari-Lou, they do not always distinguish when the action happened. I hoped and I was hoping may refer to exactly the same circumstance at exactly the same time, but the different aspect expresses a difference in how we are describing the circumstances.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 10:21

I see it as "I had hoped" means you had thought it could happen but realise now it wont. "I am hoping" means there is still a chance of it happening.


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