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I am reading a novel named Thirteen Reasons Why. And there is a sentence (And that's when I realized how hard I had been crying) in a paragraph as follows:

When someone finally did answer, I sucked in the tears that wet my lips and told them that on the corner of Tanglewood and South... But she cut me off. She told me to calm down. And that's when I realized how hard I had been crying. How much I was struggling to catch one good breath.

So my question is: If I change the tense of the sentence "And that's when I realized how hard I had been crying" in this context to "And that's when I realized how hard I WAS crying," Will it make sense and what the difference between this two sentences?

Thank you very much for your time and help!

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In normal (present tense) conversation, the difference between "I have been crying" (perfect tense) and "I am crying" (simple tense) is that the former is ambiguous as to whether or not you are still crying.

The novel being written entirely in past tense, this distinction holds. "How hard I had been crying" does not indicate whether or not you were still crying, but "how hard I was crying" indicates that you were still crying (as of the point in time being described).

  • I got it! Thank you very much for your helpful explanation! :) – skysmile May 20 at 20:10
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In "And that's when I realized how hard I had been crying," we learn that the narrator had been crying hard for some time. Whereas, in "And that's when I realized how hard I was crying," the crying might be quite brief. The image we get with "was" is of someone who has soaked one handkerchief, maximum, whereas with "had been," we can imagine at least three soaked handkerchiefs.

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    Sorry but geekahedron has it right. The difference is not the duration of the crying but whether the crying had stopped before the realisation came about. Its the same as the difference between "When I collapsed from exhaustion I realised how fast I had been running" (I was no longer running after l collapsed) and "When I passed a cyclist I realised how fast I was running" (I was still running when I passed the cyclist) – BoldBen May 21 at 8:37
  • @BoldBen - I agree with you on the cyclist (great example), but when talking about crying, I think things tend to be less precise, and little strengthener words can have subtle effects. But we can agree to disagree, I hope. – aparente001 May 22 at 3:49

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