I saw the following sentence in a book titled Awaken The Giant Within

As I flew over the city of Glendale, I suddenly recognized a large building, and I stopped the helicopter and hovered above it"

Why is the sentence not written in the past progressive tense?

As I was flying over the city, I suddenly recognized a large building…

  • For me, they simply don't mean the same thing. "As I flew over the city" = "as I crossed the air space". "As I was flying over the city" = "as I was going back and forth and in circles and whatnot". In one case, you're on a journey with a destination. In the other, the journey is a goal in itself. – RegDwigнt Jul 22 '18 at 18:44
  • 1
    @Reg Both constructions can mean both things to me. “As I hovered/was hovering far above the city, I suddenly recognised a large building” has both forms used in the other meaning you describe, and they both work just fine. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 18:46
  • 1
    The author didn't use that construction because he didn't want to. – Hot Licks Jul 22 '18 at 20:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Of course. But I am not talking about hover. And I am not talking about constructions. I am specifically talking about fly. Which is not the same as hover, and indeed its exact opposite in at least one sense. You can't prove a semantic point about the verb "go" by replacing it with the verb "stand". These behave differently to everyone, including myself. – RegDwigнt Jul 22 '18 at 21:09
  • @RegDwigнt I only used hover because that verb cannot be understood in the other sense, but only in a sense closer to the one you attributed to progressive fly. I understood your point, and I disagree. Both meanings are equally possible with both constructions. I don’t understand your claim that you are not talking about constructions: simple present vs present progressive are two different constructions, regardless of which verb is used, and the difference between the two constructions is the entire point here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 21:13

Why didn't the author use past progressive? The context of the sentence is:

I was flying my jet helicopter from a business meeting in Los Angeles, traveling to Orange County on the way to one of my seminars. As I flew over the city of Glendale, I suddenly recognized a large building, and I stopped the helicopter and hovered above it.

The past progressive is used in the previous sentence, and to me, repeating it to cover a short interval of the time span previously covered by the past progressive doesn't sound quite as good as using the simple past for this interval. But certainly both options are grammatical.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Also, using the simple past marks flying over Glendale as a ‘point’ in his journey from LA to Orange County. It highlights that the journey is a continuous stretch of individual ‘points’, of which Glendale was one, whereas the progressive would highlight that flying over Glendale was in itself a continuous stretch. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 18:48

Because in English prefer simpler, shorter verb forms over longer, more complicated ones. That leading As I... (combined with the suddenly in the other clause) suffices to convey that the action in the first clause was a continuing one.

In languages that actually have both imperfect and perfect tenses, the first verb would be written in the imperfect inflection, the second in the perfect. But because English doesn’t have actual tenses (read: inflections) for that, we instead rely on other cues to convey those aspects.

Normally you use was plus an ‑ing verb to place special emphasis on the progressive or continuous aspect. But this isn’t cut and dry, and sometimes it would sound wrong to do it one way versus the other. Consider these sentences:

  1. Mary called while I was doing the dishes.
  2. Mary called when I was doing the dishes.
  3. Mary called when I did the dishes.
  4. Mary slept while I was doing the dishes.
  5. Mary was sleeping while I was doing the dishes.
  6. Mary slept while I did the dishes.
  7. Mary slept when I did the dishes.
  8. Mary was sleeping when I did the dishes.

Those are by no means all equivalent.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I think, greater context is needed before we can say that the author preferred a simpler shorter sentence. It could be... – Mari-Lou A Jul 22 '18 at 17:03
  • Of course, the OP has vanished into thin air, so we'll never know the author's name, or the title of the book unless.... – Mari-Lou A Jul 22 '18 at 17:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.