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Imagine you go down to the station at noon to meet your friend Mike there. You sit there and wait and wait for him to show up. Two hours later your friend finally arrives and says to you:

Sorry I'm late, there was a lot of traffic on the way here.

How would you respond? Which one seems the most or least natural to you, and why?

  1. I was waiting for two hours. (past continuous)
  2. I had been waiting for two hours. (past perfect continuous)
  3. I have been waiting for two hours. (present perfect continuous)

Personally I would use the first option, or perhaps even the second but I’m not 100% sure about that one. I might even use the third choice out of natural habit, but in my mind it indicates that I am still waiting. Are those natural choices, and in that order?

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    I would go with 3 myself. It sounds more natural than the other two. Nov 27 '20 at 23:41
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    “Why didn’t you call? I could have taken a cab.”
    – Xanne
    Nov 28 '20 at 0:02
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    I'd use 3, 2 sounds like a recollection after-the-fact, and I don't know when I would ever use 1 Nov 28 '20 at 1:56
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(1) tells me that during some period in the past you were in the state of waiting. It leaves open the possibility that the period has ended and that you are no longer waiting (perhaps you are now doing a crossword or phoning your girlfriend).

(2) says that at some time in the past you were able to look back at a preceding period of waiting. It says nothing about what happened between that time and now. For example: “I came at 9; by ten o’clock I had been waiting for an hour so I went for a walk before returning here to meet at 11.”

(3) says that 2 hours ago I started waiting and that I have waited since until now.

(3) is therefore the simplest description of what you have been doing. It is the only one that agrees exactly with the reality of the circumstances you stated. (2) and (3) may imply things that you have not described about those circumstances.

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  • Now, what if your friend arrived and you both began walking away. Would it then be acceptable to say "I was waiting for 2 hours"?
    – FalaGringo
    Nov 28 '20 at 8:37
  • Yes it would, because the period of waiting ended when you met and case (1) now applies.
    – Anton
    Nov 28 '20 at 8:40
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    'I was waiting...' sounds incorrect. I'd rather say, 'I waited for 2 hours', because the activity of 'waiting' is over. It belongs to the past (=> simple past).
    – Patrick D
    Nov 28 '20 at 8:56
  • I was waiting describes my state during the 2 hours. It is correct, as is your own alternative, which states what i did without reference to when I did it.
    – Anton
    Nov 28 '20 at 9:42

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