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I've been noticing in conversations that people often use past or present or future progressive where I would normally use past, present or future simple. I know some rules about interrupted actions that are always described by progressive tenses. But today during listening some podcast, the lecturer said

Initially I was planning to make this podcast...

So my question is why to use progressive tense here? Could we use simple here? I suppose there is some difference in meaning, but have no idea where to start digging.

  • 'Initially' is here used to mean 'during the initial phase / period / time of planning' rather than 'at the initial point in time'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '14 at 13:20
  • Now it seems meaningful. So it means now to me that 'during /period / time of planning' is always followed by progressive? – Vitaly Leskiv Dec 27 '14 at 13:33
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    See also: English Language Learners – Kris Dec 27 '14 at 14:06
  • Unless you specify a point within the interval: 'At some point during the night of Saturday 20th September and the morning of Sunday 21st September a 55 inch Panasonic television was stolen from a ...' {Seaford Police} – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '14 at 14:50
  • A grammar rule that says anything "always" is or does or must not anything else is probably wrong, and laid down by a non-authority. Syntax is only sporadically regular, since there's so much variety on offer. – John Lawler Dec 27 '14 at 15:45
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Both Initially I was planning to make this podcast ... and Initially I planned to make this podcast ... are grammatical. The reason that the speaker uses the progressive aspect is because he or she recalls or conceives of the planning as being of some duration.

It is worth citing Michael Lewis in The English Verb (p42) here because what he says is fundamental to an understanding of the speaker's choice of tense or aspect in English.

We have already seen pairs of sentences both of which follow the rules of grammar as fact - in other words they are "correct" standard English. ... The differences (in meaning) are based on a choice made by the speaker at the moment the language was used. The importance of this idea is impossible to over-estimate. The speaker's understanding of the situation, intentions, and interpretation of the facts are central to the language the speaker uses.

Later Lewis reminds us that aspects of the verb, such as the progressive form:

... do not refer to real time but to psychological time - to the speaker's perception of the temporal quality of the event. ... The essential characteristic of (be) + ing forms is that the speaker uses (be) + ing if, at the moment of speaking, s(he) conceptualises the action as existing for a limited period of time.

This contrasts to the simple form, which:

... expresses the speaker's view of the event as a complete, unitary whole.

On this basis it is not helpful to think that 'during /period / time of planning is always followed by progressive' (OP's comment), but to use the progressive whenever you wish to convey the durative nature of an event.

  • Right. Always is a very dangerous word to use in syntax; and its presence in a grammar book is prima facie evidence of unprofessionalism. – John Lawler Dec 27 '14 at 15:46
  • Which grammar book is that? Did I miss something? – Rusty Tuba Dec 27 '14 at 16:23
  • @RustyTuba. Search on Amazon.co.uk for Michael Lewis, The English Verb. The reviews give a good indication of the book's focus. In my opinion all teachers of English to non-native speakers should read it. – Shoe Dec 27 '14 at 16:44
  • @Shoe... yes, I appreciate the recommendation and I do intend to read it. My question was about John Lawler's comment about the word "always" in a grammar book being evidence of unprofessionalism. The Lewis book, as you've quoted it, didn't use "always," so I'm wondering which book he was referring to. – Rusty Tuba Dec 27 '14 at 16:47

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