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My native language isn't English. What tense should I use to describe some actions/activities: present simple or present continuous? I don't mean actions/activities that are happening right now. For example what is the difference (in meaning) between these two sentences:

1) When you dream and you wake up and can't move.
2) When you are dreaming and you wake up and can't move.

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Both are ambiguous between two possibilities: are you dreaming about waking and not being able to move, or are you dreaming, and afterward waking immobile?

When you dream and you wake up and can't move.

This construction implies a sequence of events: dreaming, then waking up. This isn't a natural way to say this, though. Try: When you dream, and then you wake up and can't move.

When you are dreaming and you wake up and can't move.

The continuous construction implies that the dream doesn't stop at waking up - you wake up and can't move inside the dream. But even so, it's not the natural way to express this. Try instead: When you are dreaming that you wake up and can't move.

  • So if I use present simple , thins are in order for example "When you talk and somebody gives you money" = you talk , stop , and somebody gives you money "when you are talking and somebody gives you money"= you are talking , and somebody gives you money while you are talking/somebody gives you money but you dont stop talking Did i get it right? – user3424358 Dec 27 '14 at 20:31
  • I've edited, since I realized I wasn't clear that both constructions can mean both possibilities, they just suggest a certain interpretation. Simply joining two verbs with "and" does not tell whether the two activities overlap. – Daniel Dec 27 '14 at 20:46
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    The real problem is treating "present continuous" and "present simple" as tenses. They're not. Present is a tense, like Past; there aren't any others in English. Continous is a construction, like Passive, Cleft, etc; there are thousands more in English. They are not the same thing and should not be treated the same, and their interactions are determined by context. Half of the questions we get here are about "present continuous versus present simple". They are always confused because their authors have been taught traditional garbage and it isn't working the way they were told it would. – John Lawler Dec 27 '14 at 20:55
  • @JohnLawler I fully agree. Do you see a contradiction in my answer? If so, I would like to rectify it! – Daniel Dec 27 '14 at 20:59
  • No, not at all. Sorry if I gave that impression. I was just looking for a place to stick the comment. I'll probly put it on some others of the same ilk. – John Lawler Dec 27 '14 at 21:01

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