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Is there a difference in meaning between these two sentences?

  1. I went to the hotel you were staying at when you were in New York.
  2. I went to the hotel you stayed  at when you were in New York.

Perhaps one reading is that they went to the hotel where their friend was (still) staying, but another is that they went to the hotel where their friend had (previously) stayed. The use of the past tense were staying at when you were in New York would seem to mean that the friend was no longer there.

With I went, which represents a definite action at a point in time, does it matter if the stay at the hotel is described with the past continuous you were staying or not? Is one more correct than the other?

2

Both are acceptable grammatically.

In the first, the object clause is written in the imperfect tense (past continuous). In the second it is written in the past tense.

Neither example can possibly imply that the person described as 'you' is still staying at the hotel. But the first could well imply that 'you' were still staying at the hotel at the time 'I went'. But with the 'when you were in New York' clause included, it does not seem possible that I could have gone to the hotel when you were still there.

It does not matter that the principal verb in the sentence (went) is in the past. The action of 'I went' has nothing whatever to do with the tense applicable in the object clause. One could equally well say: 'I went to the hotel where you will be staying when you are in New York', or 'I will go to the hotel where you were staying...'

I think both sentences mean almost exactly the same thing. The second is perhaps more applicable to a very short stay, where there were also stays at other hotels.

The French would always use the imperfect (imparfait) for this type of thing, but in English you have the choice.

1

Without the clause "when you were in New York", things are fairly clear:

If I say "I went to the hotel you were staying at", it implies that I went there while you were staying there.

If I say "I went to the hotel you stayed at", it's not clear whether I went to the hotel while you were staying there, but I would expect I went there after you had left.

With the "New York" clause, things are less clear. If I went there after you had left, I would expect somebody to use the second sentence:

I went to the hotel you stayed at when you were in New York.

If I went there while you were still there, I would expect the word order:

When you were in New York, I went to the hotel you were staying at.

The combination of the verb tense from the second one and the word order from the first, while grammatical, is confusing. I don't see why one would use the continuous tense if you weren't at the hotel when I went there, and I don't see why one would use that word order if you were.

  • Generally I concur with all you say here, except that I would retain the possibility that I went to the hotel you were staying at could very easily be used to describe a visit I made after you had departed elsewhere. It could be due to the fact that I have had some exposure to French in my life that I tend to read the imperfect in that way, but I think I speak for most British speakers when I acknowledge this possibility. – WS2 Aug 3 '14 at 16:45

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