Now I am 60 years old and I want to say that sometime in the past I was at Oxford university 5 years for example but without a specific time in the past, 30 or 40years ago etc.

1) "I have studied at Oxford for 5 years" this means 5 last years till now, correct?

But what should I say in scenario above? Which one is correct?

2) "I studied at Oxford 5 years (for 5 years)"

3) "I was studying at Oxford 5 years (for 5 years)"

  • I take it that it's not you personally who went to Oxford!
    – BillJ
    Dec 1, 2018 at 10:40
  • I spent five years at Oxford, studying English, until ten years ago.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 1, 2018 at 23:26
  • Don't you think that Question would be more obviously answered somewhere such as English Language Learners? Dec 10, 2018 at 23:58
  • 1
    (2) and (3) would both be used, but in different contexts. Sep 13, 2019 at 14:22

3 Answers 3


Your first sentence actually can mean what you want, except that it wouldn't normally be interpreted that way. On reading it, the natural assumption is as you indicate. So, practically speaking, it will be misinterpreted.

But the actual way of explicitly referring to the previous 5 years—assuming you wanted to—would be:

I have been studying at Oxford for (the past) 5 years.

This is the meaning people will get out your first sentence without being forced to think of it in the way you want.

Another note is that you do need the preposition. Without for the sentence doesn't make sense.

Your second sentence is fine.

It can also be emphasized:

I once studied at Oxford for 5 years.
In the past, I studied at Oxford for 5 years.
In my youth, I studied at Oxford for 5 years.

You could also rephrase the sentence to avoid the verb study altogether.

I had a 5-year period of study at Oxford.

Last, you can't use your final sentence as it stands.

I was studying at Oxford for 5 years.

This is an incomplete thought. Because of how this verb tense works, you need to provide a concluding thought. On hearing this, people would ask, "Yes, and then what?"

Something else has to follow:

I was studying at Oxford for 5 years until the school mysteriously burned down.

In response to a comment, I have to mention an oddity of English.

This question and answer exchange is fine:

Q: "I see there's a gap in your travels from 2000 to 2005. Were you (studying) at school?"
A: "(Yes,) I was studying at Oxford."

As is this one:

Q: "What were you doing at Oxford from 2000 to 2005?"
A: "I was studying (at Oxford)."

If asked as a question or in response to a question, the past continuous is fine. So, context plays an important role.

Unfortunately, it means that you can't tell the appropriateness or inappropriateness of some sentences outside of context.

  • thanks Jason,perfect explanation.But can I use past continuous in the last sentence in such case "i was studying at Oxford from 2000 to 2005" Or you need to use past simple as well?
    – Pato
    Dec 1, 2018 at 16:50
  • @PatrikMelichercik Again, it's an incomplete thought. "And? What happened in 2005?" The listener is left hanging. It would most likely be finished with "until I graduated." (It would still sound a little odd, but not be altogether puzzling.) Dec 1, 2018 at 16:53
  • ok so it means the same for questions.I can not ask "Were you studying at Oxford from 2000 to 2005"? ,i have to add something e.g."Were you studying at Oxford from 2000 to 2005 when your brother got promoted?"..etc. Without providing this concluding thought always past simple is used "Did you study at Oxford from 2000 to 2005"? correct?
    – Pato
    Dec 1, 2018 at 17:03
  • @PatrikMelichercik No, hang on. It's fine as a question. And, contextually, it's fine as an answer to a question. This conversation exchange is okay: "What were you doing from 2000 to 2005? I was studying at Oxford. But, as one of the oddities of English, it's not fine if volunteered as as simple statement that isn't in reply to such a question. Let me update my answer . . . Dec 1, 2018 at 17:07
  • And what tense would you use in such question ... from 2000 to 2005?,past simple or continuous or both without a big difference in the meaning?
    – Pato
    Dec 1, 2018 at 17:17

I would say 'I studied' because this is a completed past event. You consider it as a fact. But if you want to emphasize the duration of your studies, you can use the other sentence /with the Past Continuous Tense/, but it is optional.


You went to Oxford and you are asking me? :)

But since you asked, i would vote for #2. it is a completed event, way in the past. And you aren't relating a story. You aren't saying "when i was studying at Oxford..." it would be by the way awkward to throw in 5 years at that exact moment..

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