Past Continuous and Past Simple 2

The past simple usually answers the questions;

Co zrobiłeś?
Jak często robiłeś?

The past continuous answers the question

Co robiłeś?

You can see that the past simple is not the same as dokonany przeszły in Polish. The dokonany aspect always tells you that an action is completed. The simple aspect in English does not tell us whether an action is completed or not.

This difference means that past simple sentences can sometimes be translated in two different ways. The normal translation is to use a dokonany verb.

What did you do yesterday?
I read a book. – Przeczytałem książkę.

However, in English, I read a book does not tell us if I read all of the book. This means that, in this situation, you could also translate the sentence using a niedokonany verb.

What did you do yesterday?
I read a book. – Czytałem książkę.

In English, we use the simple aspect to focus on a single action, and it isn’t important in this example, if the book was finished or not.

We use the continuous aspect to focus on an activity in progress at a particular time, and this will always be translated as a niedokonany verb.

What were you doing yesterday at eight o’clock?
I was reading a book. – Czytałem książkę.

Past Continuous and Past Simple 1

When we talk about the past, there are three different situations which we might want to describe:

1 Somebody did something regularly in the past.

On (zawsze) chodził do sklepu o ósmej.

2 Somebody was doing something in the past, and the action was in progress at a particular past time.

On szedł do sklepu wczoraj o ósmej.

3 Somebody did something one time at a particular past time.

On poszedł do sklepu wczoraj o ósmej.

In sentences 1 and 2, you use a different niedokonany verb to show the two different situations.

In sentence 3, you use a dokonany verb.

Sometimes, you don’t have a different niedokonany verb to show the difference between situations 1 and 2, and you use the same verb. To show which meaning you want to use, you have to use an adverb or a time phrase.

1 Somebody did something regularly in the past.

On zawsze czytał gazetę o ósmej.

2 Somebody was doing something in the past, and the action was in progress at a particular past time.

On czytał gazetę wczoraj o ósmej.

In English, we don’t have niedokonany and dokonany. We use simple and continuous. People often think of the continuous aspect as being the same as niedokonany in Polish, but this isn’t true.

You can see the difference when you compare these Polish sentences with their English translations.

1 Somebody did something regularly in the past.

On zawsze chodził do sklepu o ósmej. – niedokonany
He (always) went to the shop at eight o’clock. – past simple

2 Somebody was doing something in the past, and the action was in progress at a particular past time.

On szedł do sklepu wczoraj o ósmej. – niedokonany
He was walking to the shop at eight o’clock yesterday. – past continuous

3 Somebody did something one time at a particular past time.

On poszedł do sklepu wczoraj o ósmej. – dokonany
He went to the shop at eight o’clock yesterday. – past simple

In English, we use the past simple for something which happened one time in the past and also for something which happened regularly in the past. We have to use an adverb to show which meaning we want to use.

He always went to the shop at eight o’clock.
On zawsze chodził do sklepu o ósmej.

He went to the shop at eight o’clock yesterday.
On poszedł do sklepu wczoraj o ósmej.