My question is based on Past Simple and Past Progressive. I had a test a couple weeks ago, and there was this sentence with 2 verbs that you had to choose one to make the sentence true grammatically:

She collected / was collecting stickers last year.

It turns out that the right answer is "collected".


Doesn't it depend on the verb? Because you can collect stuff for a continuous period of time. If you judge by the rest of the sentence, it's absolutely "collected" (Past Simple), because there is nothing mentioned about how she collected stickers for a continuous period of time.

  • 2
    Both sentences are grammatical, they have slightly different nuances.
    – Barmar
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:58
  • It doesn't really depend on the verb, it depends on the sentence. Past simple is correct here because the sentence gives no indication of ongoing action.
    – Nick2253
    Jan 14, 2015 at 23:17
  • @Nick2253: But the verb doesn't merely reflect whether other parts of the sentence indicate ongoing action -- the verb itself can impart the sense of ongoing action to the sentence. E.g. She goes through hobby after hobby without ever becoming an expert. She was collecting stamps last year, and building ships in bottles the year before. What is it this year?
    – TRomano
    Jan 14, 2015 at 23:24
  • 1
    @TRomano I agree technically, but without an additional clause in the sentence, it sounds extremely weird to use the past progressive, in a large part because the "last year" part of the sentence conveys a sense of finality. At the very least, without something more (like "until she stopped."), the clear choice is past simple.
    – Nick2253
    Jan 14, 2015 at 23:29
  • "Last year" can indicate a stretch of time.
    – TRomano
    Jan 15, 2015 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


Both sentences are correct. The phrase "last year" can mean something that is fixed and done, or it can mean a period of time.

You could "correct" the second option by saying "During the past year, she was collecting stickers."

Think about this sentence, "I was working last Tuesday." Tuesday has 24 hours and so duration makes sense. "I worked last Tuesday." looks at this from the perspective that Tuesday is a solid thing that cannot be broken up into units. In this way, it is separate from Wednesday.

The sentences mean slightly different things but this has more to do with how the speaker viewed the activity. "She was collecting stickers last year." looks at what she was doing as a process over many months. "She collected stickers last year." looks at this from a completed action point of view.

My guess as to why your teacher wanted "collected" as the answer is because he or she probably covered this in previous classes and wants to test what you learned.

It's a poor test question, though.


She collected stickers last year. This is an observation. A statement of fact with no particular emphasis.

She was collecting stickers last year. This catches attention because it draws attention to the fact that there were multiple occasions when she was collecting stickers. "Throughout" is not there, but the past progressive hints at the idea that she was collecting stickers throughout last year (and my what a labour that was).

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