I was having a shower when the telephone rang. (Past Continuous for interrupted action) I was in the shower when the telephone rang.

Why is Past Simple used in the second sentence?)

  • It seems reasonable. "I was taking a shower" describes my state of being when the phone rang; so does "I was in the shower." What would the alternative be? "I was being in the shower" would be just extra words and clunky.
    – Maverick
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:38
  • Progressive constructions require semantically active verbs like take a shower. Locative predicates are stative, not active, and therefore don't allow the progressive. This is in fact one of the tests for active vs stative predicates: I am renting that house (rent is active) vs *I am owning that house, which is ungrammatical because own is stative. Oct 25, 2021 at 17:21
  • 1
    Oh, just looked at the actual question. The second sentence is not progressive because the phone ringing is a punctual event, not a durative one. Durative events like showering take some time to accomplish, and hence are fine with the progressive. But if you use a punctual verb with the progressive (e.g, the phone was ringing), you give the impression that it went on for a long time and that other things were going on hurriedly at the same time. Nov 24, 2021 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


Here is a good explanation of why the progressive can't be used; it is found in A comprehensive grammar of the English language. It must be understood first that the verb "to be" in the sentence is a so called stative verb.

(CoGEL § 4.26) State, event, and habit with the progressive

The three verb senses of state, event, and habit are differently interpreted with the progressive :
In many cases the progressive is unacceptable with stative verbs:
♦ We own a house in the country.
♦ *We are owning a house in the country.
♦ *Sam's wife was being well-dressed.
This can be explained, in part, by the observation that stative verb meanings are inimical to the idea that some phenomenon is 'in progress'. States are 'like-parted' in that every segment of a state has the same character as any other segment: no progress is made. (Contrast We are building a house in the country.) Where the progressive does occur, it is felt to imply temporariness rather than permanence:
♦ We are living in the country. [temporary residence]
♦ We live in the country. [permanent residence]

  • Agree with this answer 100%.
    – meepyer
    Nov 25, 2021 at 6:52

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