From this resource I find two situational explanations of Past Progressive:

"Interrupted action in the past." with an example

She was reading a book when the light went off, had a shower and left.

And for Past Perfect Progressive:

"To show that something started in the past and continued up until another action stopped it." with an example:

They had been playing soccer when the accident occurred

For me both are kind of interruption. And both were continued up until another action stopped it. Are those bad examples? Or I am missing something? Or second part of Past Progressive ("had a shower and left.") is crucial?

  • 1
    "She was reading a book when the light went off, had a shower and left." is hardly an award-winning example when it's supposed to be helping with grammar. Find another resource, forget the interruption part, understand what the past progressive is, understand what the past perfect is, then combine them together
    – msam
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:34
  • I will. But question was about these two sentences. If they are correct I want to know what exactly makes them different in tense sense. Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:51
  • 1
    That first example doesn't make sense. Confusion will be natural, and the expected consequence. You'd do better to find a vetted grammar source, not something on the internet done by EFL speakers. I have no idea of what it was that they thought they were teaching.
    – F.E.
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:28

6 Answers 6


The difference is subtle, but there is one.

In She was reading a book when the light went off the focus is on the activity at the time of the interruption.

In They had been playing soccer when the accident occurred the focus is on the activity in the time before the interruption.

But to all intents and purposes the grammatical forms are interchangeable in such contexts.

As an aside, the second part of the Past Progressive sentence "had a shower and left" is not only of no importance to the choice of construction, it is also somewhat bizarre.

  • “Somewhat bizarre” is rather a diplomatic way of putting it. Personally, I’m a bit scared by this light that somehow manages to take showers—not to mention leave after it’s already gone off! Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 9:32
  • To me the past perfect progressive suggests that the activity or action was completed before the incident. The example suggests to me that the game was over when the accident occurred, possibly that the accident happened on their way home.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 0:47

As I understand it, past perfect prog. gives a sense of the action being interrupted as one of a longer duration than if you were to use past prog.

E.g. I had been training for two years when I won the national championship.

This is a good example because aside from that sense of duration being imbued, the structuring of the sentence makes it quite irrational to use past prog. instead


This link might clear your doubt of Past Progressive http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastcontinuous.html and Past Perfect Progressive http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfectcontinuous.html It contais very simple and unambiguous answers.

  • I was hoping someone can clear these two particular sentences so I can move one =) But thank you for the links. Looks like they have much more info I had Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:52
  • My Pleasure! @Aleksandr Motsjonov
    – Pooja Raja
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 13:18

as i know, both of them are expressing progression, but the difference is here that in perfect tenses, the time is unspecified and in the past tenses the time is specified. and the next contrast is in past perfect progressive tense, it shows the progression of a very late and unspecific happened action, but in past progressive it shows recent or close progression of an action.

  • Can you elaborate on why you think "in perfect tenses, the time is unspecified"?
    – user140086
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 5:53

Perfect progressive an action occur in known time from the beginning up to end But the past progressive consern with unknown time .

  • There could be something worthwhile in this answer but, sadly, it has been poorly expressed, poorly punctuated and poorly spelled.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 15:08

"When the truck came, we had been working." Here, the workers stopped working once the truck arrived. "When the truck came, we were working." Here, the workers continued working after the truck arrived. The difference of meaning may be assumed in the absence of other clear context. Both continuous activities begin and end in the past, though the simple aspect of "had" would indicate the continuous activity "work" ceased at one point. Both sentences could have the same meaning depending on further contextual description.The past perfect progressive is used when one continuous action occurred relative to a completed action and exact time is not important.

  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 4:49

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