Simon was feeling exhausted because____

A) the baby wasn't sleeping all night

B) the baby hadn't slept all night

My book says choice "B" is correct, but I cannot understand why. Specifically, I want to understand it using the rules of verb tenses. The exercise is called "narrative tenses."

  • It's the difference between "wasn't sleeping" and "hadn't slept", not merely between "wasn't" and "hadn't". – TRomano Dec 2 '15 at 12:52
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    It might be only my understanding, but I think that the B makes the night of the baby (and Simon) completely sleepless, while A leaves more uncertainty there. As for grammar, maybe when giving the reason for the (narrative) past situation, the past perfect sets it more in the past than the tense of the description itself. – Thinkeye Dec 2 '15 at 20:36

Both are grammatically correct, but they are used in different circumstances.

If the baby had been in the habit of not sleeping through the night, then choice A would be appropriate.

If the baby didn't sleep well just last night then B would be the one to use.

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    +1. Presumably the authors of the book had never heard the question "Is the baby sleeping all night?" – TRomano Dec 2 '15 at 12:58
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    Yes, 'all night' doesn't necessarily mean 'all last night'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 2 '15 at 14:40

B, which uses "hadn't," is a better description of an event that has already ended. In this example, Simon feels exhausted because he was unable to get any sleep during the night. So the night is over, and we switch to a more perfect tense to describe what went on inside it.


A's use of "wasn't" probably falls under the Simple Past designation. "The baby wasn't sleeping all night" — you might come across this sentence in a book when the narrator talks about a year when insomnia was a bodily habit of the baby. But it's not specific about the time in which this took place. B talks about a recent and contained span, while A could refer to a longer one. For example, "last month the baby wasn't sleeping through the night." In the page linked below, glance at uses 3, 4 and 5.


In short, "had" indicates that an action has been completed. "Was" is a more general description of the past that can cover a whole time period. This example calls for a narrow description of when poor Simon had to stay up.

Hope that helps. Narrative tenses are tricky until you get a lot of practice.

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A is past continuous tense, which is used to describe an action that happened and is still happening at this moment. B is past perfect tense, meaning it happened in the past and is not happening at this moment. Because Simon's action is a reaction to a past situation (meaning the baby's action already happened and is not at this moment), the past perfect would have to be used.

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