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German supposedly has no equivalent of the progressive/continuous tense in English (e.g. "we are going"). However, I sometimes hear sentences such as "wir waren essen" or "er ist telefonieren". Are such sentences grammatically correct, and what is the difference in meaning to the "normal" versions ("wir aßen", "er telefoniert")?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted
  • "wir waren essen" or "er ist telefonieren" sind nicht korrekt, aber umgangssprachlich (auch schriftlich) bedingt durch ihre weite Verbreitung zulässig.
  • "wir aßen" und "er telefoniert" sind korrekt.
  • Keine Unterschiede in der Bedeutung.
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Not sure I agree there: IMO the construction Tim asks about implies that the person denoted by the subject is away doing whatever they're doing. "Wir waren essen" means "we were out eating". "Er ist telefonieren" means "He is out of the room, speaking on the phone". –  elena Nov 1 '11 at 10:17
Should this answer be translated? Usually answers are written in the same language as the question. –  musiKk Nov 3 '11 at 10:51

I have to agree with elena's comment on Barnie's answer. "Wir waren essen" has a different meaning than you are asking for.

If you want to use a progressive/continuous tense, then you can use (colloquially) the combination with "am":

Wir sind am Essen. Er ist am Telefonieren.

See also: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/am#Bedeutung3

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