Let's say I am at the train station and I missed the train, I still see it driving off. I would naturally say to myself: 'Damn, that was the train I was hoping to get.' Would that be wrong? If not, why is the past progressive used here? I have been taught that you use the past progressive when you are either talking...

  • about a longer action that was interrupted by a shorter action
  • about actions that were happening at the same time
  • about an action that was in process at a specific time in the past

However, my sentence doesn't follow any of the rules above (at least I don't see that).

Another sentence that I can't gramatically explain... Context: You told your friend David that Fred would not behave good when he is drunk before going to a party at which Fred gets drunk and then behaves bad. Later you say to David 'See? That's what I was talking about.' What's the grammatical explanation of this?

Can anyone give me a rule why these sentences work?

Thank you in advance!

  • 1
    If you insist on understanding past progressive through the lens of those three rules, consider that you were hoping to catch the train ("a longer action") but then missed it ("a shorter action").
    – user13141
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 3:04
  • 1
    I was hoping someone would ask this question! I could have said "I hoped someone would ask!", but I think the past progressive implies a stronger connection to the present (I'd been in a continuous state of desire/expectation right up until I read this post; it wasn't just something I felt briefly some time ago). Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 3:42
  • @onomatomaniak As Barrie points out, OP's '3 rules' should really have 'about a longer state / process that was 'interrupted' by a shorter action / event'. Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 9:40
  • A big thanks to all of you but @FumbleFingers: Does the past progressive really imply a connection to the present? I've always thought that's what the present perfect (progressive) is there for. Could you explain your line of thought a little further please?
    – Juro
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 15:54
  • @Juro: Consider a scenario where you answer the doorbell and it turns out to be a friend you haven't seen for years. Sure, you could say "What a surprise! I thought about you only yesterday!". But I think most people would say "I was thinking about you only yesterday!", which to me (possibly by association with present perfect) makes a stronger link between then and now. But I wouldn't take it to imply a general principle - it's just a slight nuance in certain contexts (including yours, I feel). The "extended period" nuance is pretty irrelevant here, of course. Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


The past progressive construction is used here because it emphasises a state that continued over time, however brief. The past tense, by contrast, describes an event or action that occurred at a particular time in the past, but it does not emphasise its continuing nature in the way that the present progressive does.

The same applies to your second example. The past progressive emphasises the fact that the talking extended over a period of time. That's what I talked about would not be at all appropriate in this context, because it views the action as a single past event that is over and done with.

  • 1
    Thank you very much for the reply, I greatly appreciate that. You really helped me with your explanation of things. :)
    – Juro
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 15:48

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