Excuse my limited acquaintance on English usage; which sentence is grammatically correct, and if any, which meaning does each convey?

  • I saw them play chess.
  • I saw then playing chess.

Both are grammatically correct. My interpretation as an AmE speaker is as follows.

I saw them play chess.

This in the simple past. It implies the person doing the "seeing" saw the chess game finish in the past.

I saw them playing chess.

This is, again, the simple past, buy playing implies a continuous event, which was not finished at the time the speaker stopped "seeing" them.

This interpretation relies on formal speech. In informal speech, there is not as much distinction between these two forms.

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  • I think you meant to say a continuous event. And I think you meant to punctuate your last sentence, maybe like this: This interpretation relies on formal speech. In formal speech there is less distinction. – Babs Jan 29 '14 at 17:29
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    @ Susan. Thanks for taking it in the friendly manner it was intended. – Babs Jan 29 '14 at 19:04
  • Many Thanks @Susan for sharing your thoughts, this answer proved succinct and instructive. – elm Feb 5 '14 at 8:04

1 I saw them play chess. - They played chess (and not draughts) + I saw it/this. The question "Did they finish the game or not" is irrelevant. 2 I saw them playing chess. - They were playing chess + I saw it/this.

One often finds explanations such as in (1) the action of playing chess was finished and in (2) not.

I don't believe that speakers reflect have they finished or not. In (1) you have the sentence "They plaid chess (fact, and not draughts), in (2) you have the sentence "They were playing chess". Both sentences combined with "I saw it/this".

When an eyewitness is asked by the police how the man entered the garden the eyewitness may say: I saw him climb over the garden wall. When the eyewitness relates this incident to his wife he may say. "When I looked at the neighbour's house I saw a man climbing/climb over the garden wall. I don't think that the eyewitness asks himself did the man finish his action or not. I hold this for grammar stories. You use the normal tenses when you speak of the fact, and the progressive forms when you want to state the fact that someone is/was in the middle of the action.

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  • In your example, I saw a man climbing (over) the garden wall does indeed imply a point in time during the event. I was frightened when I saw a man climbing the fence. I saw a man climb the wall. I didn't see him after that. I would use examples from real sources, except "climb(ing) the wall" is an idiom, where climb the garden wall is a song, and there are too many hits to sift to. I did state that this interpretation was loose, and based only on my experience as a native speaker. I'm curious as to your sources, though I think you make some good points. – anongoodnurse Jan 29 '14 at 19:22
  • Many Thanks @rogermue for your view; eager to up-vote your response as soon as I gain enough score :) – elm Feb 5 '14 at 8:03

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