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I have been studying on the progressive and simple aspects. I understand their format and their nature. However, I still don't understand how to decide when to use one or the other. For instance:

Jeb wrote the first draft of his essay

or

Jeb has written the first draft of his essay

The same applies to:

He looks tired, because he stayed up all last night

or

He looks tired, because he had stayed up all last night

How do you decide which one is better? I find it hard to decide which one is better. Both sound correct to me. Is it better to write:

"He 'looked' tired, because he 'had stayed' up all night.

Or

He looked tired, because he stayed up all night.

What is the difference?

  • You seem to have the idea that, for any given sentence, there is only one aspect that is correct. This is wrong. In your first example and last examples (Jeb wrote/has written the first draft and he looked tired ...), either aspect works fine. – Peter Shor May 31 '17 at 18:53
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Instead of explaining which sentence is right / wrong, I'd like to point out the difference between the "aspect" and "tense".

Tense is the "time" an event may occur in and in English there two tenses: present & past. Aspect is the "appearance" of a given action in "time" and in English there are two aspects: progressive and perfect

Now, it is relatively more easy to construct sentences accurately. Assume you are talking about two events in the past, say, yesterday. So, the "tense" for both events is past.

What are the aspects of those events? One was before other? If so, first one will have perfect aspect. Or one event happened while the other was happening? If so, longest one has progressive aspect. Or did they occur simultaneously? If so, you may use simply "simple past" for both.

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"Jeb wrote the first draft of his essay." - when he has finished it a certain time before now

"Jeb has written the first draft of his essay." - when he has just finished it, maybe a few moments ago and he sees the result and realises that he has finished it!

"He 'looks' tired, because he stayed up all night." He 'looks' tired (now), because he stayed up all night (past tense).

"He 'looked' tired, because he 'had stayed' up all night." - only when you tell the whole story in the past - first part in past tense, second part in past perfect

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  • I understand the first three examples, I don't understand the last example. So everything needs to be in the past to use 'had stayed'? And then if everything is in the past, then why not 'He looked tired, because he stayed up all night?' – Pablo Mar 2 '17 at 2:55
  • Because the staying up all night happened even before he looked tired. He retook the class because he had failed it. – Yosef Baskin Mar 2 '17 at 20:35
  • Ok I am starting to get it, so when I say he retook the class because he failed it we don't know what happened first. But using the perfect aspect we know "had failed it" happened just before the past? Is that correct? – Pablo Mar 3 '17 at 0:21
  • Of interest: the bottom half of the whimsical blog post: How to Ask out an Apple. – Lawrence Aug 29 '17 at 22:36

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