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Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

The tree was slender compared to other weirwoods he had seen, no more than a sapling, yet it was growing as he watched, its limbs thickening as they reached for the sky.

While (A) was happening, (B) happened

can mean either:

  1. (B) was some short action, that's why it makes no sense to use past continuous -> While I was reading, she called.

  2. (B) can mean a longer action that was happening during the same time as the action . And the reason we use past simple is just for the sake of eliminating redundancy, right? Like in the sentences from the book -> Past continuous + Past simple ->

(1) It was growing as he watched (instead of was growing as he was watching)

(2) its limbs [were] thickening as they reached for the sky (instead of its limbs were thickening as they were reaching for the sky)

Bottom line: Both 1 and 2 (growing/watching and thickening/reaching) mean that all these actions were continuous in time, but we use past simple for elinimating repeats of was + Ving. Am I right with that?

Thanks in advance

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    'The tree was growing as he watched' implies that he could see it growing, very unusual for real trees. There is a dramatisation; 'watched' in past simple implies a punctive event, but there must be some duration to perceive any change. 'Even in the short time he was watching, the tree could be seen to grow'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 10 at 13:31
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It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why past simple was used, but it could be for eliminating repeating -ing as you have suggested. Usually this mechanism isn't to avoid repetition but to give focus to one of the verbs. But yes they are both continuous in time. The tree was growing at the same time he was watching it grow, and its limbs were becoming thicker at the same time as they were "reaching for the sky", which might be a metaphor/another way to describe that its limbs were growing in length at the same time.

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  • Were the limbs growing in length, or was it their thickness that was widening over their length, not over time, rather than the natural slimming that tree limbs do? – Yosef Baskin Jul 10 at 13:26
  • It started as a sapling (a baby tree). It was growing so fast that he could see it growing with his own eyes ("it was growing as he watched"). The second part is stating the tree's limbs were becoming thicker at the same time they were growing in length. – Allie Hughes Jul 11 at 15:24
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The author has made a stylistic choice here. You are on the right track to say that he did this to avoid repeating the past tense of "to be" ("were") used as a helping verb by using the simple past for the second verb in each series.

In addition to making the sentence more readable, it emphasizes the first verb over the second; i.e., the focus is on the growing rather than the watching and on the thickening rather than the reaching. The result is concise, vivid imagery and a more enjoyable read.

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"It was growing as he watched," means that both events were happening simultaneously. This is more than just a stylistic choice; Martin is stating, "the tree was growing during the time I was watching," and is implying that the tree is growing so fast that he can visually see it grow (which is very unusual).

The stylistic part of his wording is that he chose to write the phrase in a succinct manner. He wrote "It was growing as he watched," instead of "It was growing so fast that he could watch it grow," because a fluent speaker would understand the implication of how fast it was growing without the need for clarification.

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