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I'm trying to figure out what to choose between Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Continuous in the following sentence:

Mr Georgiou had been working/had worked for the company for twenty years when he retired.

My choice was "had been working" because of the duration factor, "for twenty years". However, the book reports "had worked" as the correct answer. Isn't the above sentence emphasizing the duration of the action instead of the action itself?

Source: Common CAE Mistakes at CAE

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, user140086, jimm101, curiousdannii, Nathaniel Mar 7 '16 at 18:40

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  • 1
    'Had been working' implies it was still going on when the next event (here retirement) happened. This is a judgement call, but I'd use 'had worked' myself. Though I wouldn't have marked the alternative wrong when I was a teacher. (But then I was a maths teacher.) – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 '16 at 23:17
  • key point is that he retired. The work completely stopped, so you don't choose the continuous. – icy Mar 4 '16 at 23:19

Here are two examples to further show the difference

John had been working the field when a snake suddenly bit him.

(the biting happened during the work)

John had worked the field before pouring himself a cold drink.

(drink pouring happened at some point after the work)

In your initial sentence, the act of retirement is not a sudden snake attack that occurred during Mr. Georgiou's work -- he worked, stopped, and then retired.

  • I think I get it now. Basically the difference is completed vs ongoing action. In my sentence is more of a completed action that happened before something in the past. – Alex Luigi Mar 5 '16 at 14:42

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