''I was assisting at the general happiness.''

''I assisted at the general happiness.''*

Is there any difference between these two sentences? Are both grammatical? From what I know, the imperfect ought to be used when we're talking about a repeted action in the past, and the past progressive when talking about an isolate event. We'd use the first, with the progressive, if the narrator would only take part one time to that happiness, and the imperfect with ''assisted'' if that was a habit of his, to usually assist at that happiness.

I'm a bit confuse. Could anyone help me?

  • You’re more likely to be assisting with the general happiness.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:15
  • @YosefBaskin I'm trying to translate from a Romanian novel, written by Marin Preda, and the passage is ''Asistam la veselia generală...'', it may sound strange to an English audience, but it's the right choice. But what do you mean when saying I have no gerund there, isn't ''I was assisting'' a gerund? Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:25
  • Oh, I see, I made a confussion, I meant to make the comparisson with the past progressive. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:46

2 Answers 2


Let me first note that assisting at general happiness is an odd locution. Generally, when we assist at something, it's some action or event, not an emotional state. However, that's a semantic consideration. Both of your sentences are grammatical.

Secondly, the imperfect isn't generally a label attached to English tenses. We have a simple past (assisted) and a past progressive (was assisting). The former generally indicates a completed past event; the latter, a past event that occurred continuously over some period of time.

As you note, there are two imperfect aspects -- the continuous and the habitual. In English, the former uses the present participle (ending in -ing). Thus if you asked a doctor about his work last night, he might say

[1] I was assisting the chief surgeon.

and you would understand that this was a continuous effort, that is one that took some time.

The latter has several modes of expression. Thus if you asked a doctor about his medical career, he might say

[2a] When I was on staff, I would assist the chief surgeon.
[2b] I used to assist the chief surgeon.
[2c] I assisted at operations.

In each of these, you would understand that the doctor repeatedly assisted during surgery. Note that 2a relies on a modal use of would and that 2b and 2c pick up the habitual aspect from the semantics.

The situation for the present tense is different, especially for stative verbs. The simple present often represents ongoing repeated or habitual actions. Thus if I say

[3a] I go to the gym.

I mean that I have often exercised at the gym and will continue to do so. If I say

[3b] I am going to the gym.

I mean either that I'm enroute right now (the present) or that my departure is imminent (near future).


First, 'I was assisting' has no gerund. 'Assisting is a charitable thing to do' has a gerund because of how the word (originally a verb) serves as a noun: Assist becomes assisting and then sometimes acts as a thing in itself, assisting. Food and money are kindness. Help is kindness. Helping or assisting is kindness.

However, Asistam is not assisting but seeing: We are seeing a general joy.

>We are seeing a general joy and great pride but such a cruel overall responsibility, that I felt my shoulders shrug off this burden.

Back to gerunds, in "Seeing is believing" we have two gerunds, almost like "oranges are citrus."

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