LEVELS II AND V: READ AND PRINT THIS: Simple Past VS. Past Progressive

Use

After another or at the same time?

Do you want to express that the actions in the past happened one after another or at the same time?
Simple PastPast Progressive
after another
She came home, switched on the computer and checked her e-mails.
at the same time
Simon was playing on the computer while his brother was watching TV.

New action or already in progress?

If you want to express that a new action happened in the middle of another action, you need both tenses: Simple Past the new action and Past Progressive for the action already in progress.
Simple PastPast Progressive
new action
My mobile rang (when I was sitting in a meeting.)
action already in progress
While I was sitting in a meeting, (my mobile suddenly rang.)

Only mentioning or emphasising progress?

Do you just want to mention that an action took place in the past (also used for short actions)? Or do you want to put emphasis on the progress, e.g. that an action was taking place at a certain time?
Simple PastPast Progressive
just mentioning
Colin played football yesterday.
emphasising progress
Yesterday at six o'clock, Colin was playing football.

Signal words

Simple PastPast Progressive
  • first
  • then
  • If-Satz Typ II (If I talked, …)
  • when
  • while
  • as long as

Taken from http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/simpas-paspro

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