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Why does the following sentence use НСВ готовил instead of CB приготовил

Повар 3 часа готовил обед. 

If I use готовил doesn't that mean I regularly cooked for 3 hours?

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    Cook spent 3 hours cooking lunch. – Alexander Mar 6 at 21:55
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This use implies the process of cooking, i.e. he was physically doing something (cooking, cutting, washing, waiting, checking) for 3 hours.

But one can say Повар приготовил обед за 3 часа. - This is the statement of fact, i.e. It took him 3 hours to make the dinner.

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Повар три часа готовил обед.

It means exactly the process that in English is expressed with present perfect continuous

The chef has been cooking lunch for three hours.

We do not speak about the result.

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  • "Has been cooking" is better translated with the Russian present: три часа готовит. Готовил would be "cooked" in most contexts, or something lexical like "spent three hours cooking" if we really need to emphasise the duration. The difference in aspect is more like the difference between "cooked dinner for three hours" and "cooked dinner in three hours". – Nikolay Ershov Mar 21 at 4:26
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Strictly, "СВ" means truly finished action, "НСВ" doesn't. Let's replace "Повар" with "Рыбак" (fisherman) and "готовить" with "тащить рыбу" (land the fish? - action between fish is in water and fish is in corf). So, we can say either "Рыбак тащил рыбу 3 часа, но не вытащил" (He tried for 3 hours, but unsuccessfull), or "Рыбак тащил рыбу 3 часа и вытащил" (He tried for 3 hours, and successfull) (It is "НСВ"). Or, we can say ("Рыбак вытащил рыбу за 3 часа") (he is truly did it, "СВ"). In general, in many cases there is no difference between of "СВ" and "НСВ", if we're talking about of action with known result. "Повар 3 часа готовил обед" and "Повар приготовил обед за 3 часа" can be equal, if cooker was successfull. Sorry for my English.

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