While we waited vs. While we were waiting

Hi teachers,

I met Tom at the airport a few weeks ago. We had a chat while we [color=blue]waited/were waiting for our flight.

Which one is better/correct? And why?

Thanks in advance


Neither one is better or more correct. When the present continuous is used, it puts slightly more focus on the passage of time, whereas the simple past puts more focus on the fact that their waiting eventually ended.

However, both sentences can be used more or less interchangeably, and they are both correct.

Hi Jamie (K),

Thanks for your explanation.

Personally, I think [color=blue]while we were waiting is better because while usually follows by progressive tense.

But, according to English Grammar in Use, [color=blue]while we waited is correct, and it gives only one option, that is waited, not were waiting.

What is your idea?


Neither one is better or worse.

Tell me which chapter it is in (the number and the title). I’ll look it up and tell you why that is.

Hi Jupiter,

As Jamie said, it’s not a question of being correct or not. It’s a question of meaning and interpretaion. The beauty of the continuous form in English is its ability to show an activity proceeding within time. It becomes starker in the present forms. A news reporter could say: While people sit and wait hour after hour in the airport because they want to know who has survived the crash, we return you to the studio This indicates that the emphasis is on sit and wait as a long and drawn out process. But a receptionist could say to a client: While you are waiting for your appointment, help yourself to tea or coffee. This indicates a short duration of time.