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Ciao!

I was curious how the English "Past Continuous" tense is translated in Italian.

In many cases online I have seen it written as either of the two options:

1) Stare (l'imperfetto) + verbo (il gerundio)

2) Verbo (l'imperfetto)

Example: I was going home.

1) Io stavo andando a casa.

2) Io andavo a casa.

Are these both acceptable forms to convey the same message? Is one more common than the other? Does this also hold for verbs other than andare?

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    Without touching on the question itself, notice that you wouldn't say * guidare a casa for “to drive home”. You'd just say something like andare a casa, adding in macchina if necessary. – DaG Aug 2 '16 at 7:17
  • And, most of the times, you'd omit the subject, unless intending to stress it for some reason. That is, stavo andando a casa but io stavo andando a casa, mentre Luigi andava nella direzione opposta. – DaG Aug 2 '16 at 7:19
  • Thanks, I understand the subject is normally omitted. I just left it in for completeness. – pj2452 Aug 2 '16 at 9:46
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I answered to your analogous question for the present continuous, now I do the same for the past :).

First of all, as DaG already told you, Italians don't usually say:

Io stavo andando a casa

but only:

Stavo andando a casa

unless you want to emphasize the subject, for example (here io and tu are stressed):

Oggi io ho cucinato, io ho lavato i piatti e tu hai solo mangiato, domani o cucini tu o mi porti al ristorante!

Regarding the imperfetto di stare + gerundio, it is more or less like the past continuous in English, it is used to describe an action that was occurring in the past when some other action happened, for example:

Stavo andando tranquillamente a casa in macchina quando, all'improvviso, davanti a me è sbucata (not completely grammatically correct but used) una volpe

or

Stavo andando tranquillamente a casa in macchina quando, all'improvviso, davanti a me sbucò (correct but used only in formal Italian) una volpe

The imperfetto is used for habitual actions:

Quando abitavo a Milano, andavo al lavoro in tram tutti i giorni

As suggested by DaG and Denis Nardin, in some cases the imperfetto is used to interpret the English past continuous.

Fist example (a cultured Manzoni's quotation proposed by egreg):

Per una di queste stradicciole, tornava bel bello dalla passeggiata verso casa, sulla sera del giorno 7 novembre dell'anno 1628, don Abbondio, curato d'una delle terre accennate di sopra […]

I don't dare to translate it in English but don Abbondio was coming back...

Second example:

When WWII happened I was working as a beautician

Quando la seconda guerra mondiale scoppiò, lavoravo come estetista

here if you say:

Quando la seconda guerra mondiale scoppiò, stavo lavorando

it seems that, when WWII was declared, you were at work :)

| improve this answer | |
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    Ceterum censeo che “guidare” usato nel senso di “andare in macchina” è un anglismo. Controprova empirica, per il poco che vale: cercando la stringa "stavo guidando verso casa" si ottengono in stragrande maggioranza brani di libri tradotti dall'inglese... – DaG Aug 2 '16 at 16:29
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    @DaG, hai ragione, volevo cercare di utilizzare l'esempio originale ma non suona bene, correggo – CarLaTeX Aug 2 '16 at 18:12
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    You sure, @CarLaTeX? A sentence such as “Me ne andavo bel bello per la mia strada, quando...” sounds perfectly ordinary to me. – DaG Aug 3 '16 at 7:24
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    @CarLaTeX What about When WWIII happened I was working as an owl beautician, which I'd translate Quando la terza guerra mondiale scoppiò lavoravo come estetista per gufi (più idiomatica forse facevo l'estetista di gufi) – Denis Nardin Aug 3 '16 at 7:33
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    A well known example of imperfetto used where in English the progressive form would be preferred: “Per una di queste stradicciole, tornava bel bello dalla passeggiata verso casa, sulla sera del giorno 7 novembre dell'anno 1628, don Abbondio, curato d'una delle terre accennate di sopra […].” – egreg Aug 4 '16 at 9:24

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