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I was waiting for my dinner for 3 hours last time you cooked.

The rule enlists when and while being the only signal words in past continuous.

I know past continuous doesn't require having signal words, but can for stand on par with while and when?

Past perfect continuous tense also lurks somewhere at the back of my brain, "I had been waiting for my dinner for 3 hours last time you cooked." Though, I wonder if past continuous can be used in this case.

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Your example sentence establishes less of a time frame than a cause and effect relationship between the addressee's cooking dinner and your 3-hour wait, thus no reason to use the past progressive. The for in front of three hours signals nothing and can be omitted:

Last time you cooked, I waited /had to wait three hours for dinner.

The past or past perfect progressive uses a continuous action to establish a time frame for another action:

I had already been waiting three hours for dinner when I remembered the candy bar in my coat pocket.

While I was waiting for dinner, I remembered the candy bar.

Note how the three hours sets a limit on the wait before the fortuitous discovery of the candy bar, that is, it was a continuous action for three hours but no longer, forcing the wait into the past perfect progressive rather than the past progressive.

When can a signal word for past or past perfect progressive because it introduces the framed event; while because it introduces the frame.

  • Wait a sec. In my understanding a direct cause and effect is something similar to, It was raining for 3 hours when I was outside. All of my clothes are wet now. Are you are stating the initial sentence is incorrect? What if it is the duration of the time that is being pointed out in the sentence? I'm trying to find a flaw or exception to the tense. Not a standardized rule repeatedly used from site to site. This is the reason I asked the question. To check whether the sentence still would sound naturally. Or does it really cut through the ear? – Andrejs Zavaruhins Feb 7 '18 at 20:58
  • To be honest, it sounded more or less OK until I put the cooking bit first. Then it was apparent how unidiomatic it sounded with the three hours. Cause/Effect: last time you cooked I waited 3 hours. That's it. Both actions simple past. To use the progressive you'd need "was waiting for three hours until..." – KarlG Feb 7 '18 at 21:24
  • Ok. I was intending to say that I was waiting for the dinner to be ready for 3 hours. That's supposed to sound as a sarcastic scorn one would throw to a spouse. Implying that next time we either go to cafe or buy cooked food. Or that the spouse needs to improve the cooking skills, or that I should assist with cooking. – Andrejs Zavaruhins Feb 8 '18 at 17:20

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