Past Continuous Tense 

We use the Past Continuous Tense (also called the Past Progressive Tense) when we talk about the actions which are in progress (continuing) in the past. 

Note: We use the simple past tense to describe finished actions in the past.

Here's an example:

I'm sorry I couldn't go out with you yesterday. I was preparing for a party I'm having for my friend today. During the day, I was cleaning up the house, shopping for groceries and preparing food. I was also doing laundry. Actually, I was making a cake when you called.

How to Form the Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous tense is formed with:

Subject + the verb "be" (was/were) and verb + ing

For example: 

  • I was talking on the phone.
  • She was swimming in the pool.
  • We were eating dinner in the restaurant when we saw Cristiano Ronaldo.
  • They were sitting on the bench when Mara came.

As you can see, forming the past continuous is easy. Now let's look at the uses of this tense.

Uses of the Past Continuous Tense

1. We use the Past Continuous Tense to talk about an action that was in progress at a particular time in the past.

The action started in the past, continued for a while and finished at a time in the past. Look at the example below. 

Some more examples:

  • She was doing some exercises at 6:00 am in the morning.
  • We were cleaning our garden yesterday evening.
  • They were painting the walls last weekend.
  • Suzie was polishing her nails last night before sleep.

2. We use the Past Continuous Tense when we talk about two or more actions happening at the same time in the past.

We can connect the sentences with while or as.

  • I was watching a movie while my mother was making popcorn.
  • She was doing her homework  while I was  cleaning the house.
  • They were playing football while I was walking in the garden.
  • We were waiting in the queue as they were eating dinner in the restaurant.
  • It was raining outside while Herbert was trying to catch the bus.
  • Kathy and her boyfriend were leaving the shopping mall as I was entering.

3. We use the Past Continuous Tense together with the Simple Past Tense when one action happened in the middle of another action.

  • I was waiting for the bus when you called me. (I was waiting for the bus, and then in the middle of it you called me.)
  • We were preparing a surprise for my father when he arrived home. (We were preparing a surprise and then my father arrived home in the middle of it.)
  • She stopped me and said ‘Hi!’, while I was running. (I was running and then she stopped me.)
  • When I saw her in class, she was crying. (She was already crying in the classroom and then I went in and saw her crying.)
  • We were studying Turkish when my mom entered the room.
  • They were watching TV when Daria knocked the door.

4. We use the Past Continuous to give background information about something happened in the past.

Yesterday, someone stole my wallet, I was waiting at the bus stop at 7:00 pm and talking on the phone. Two people were standing next to me. They were talking loudly. An old man was sitting on the bench.

5. We use the Past Continuous to set the scene for a story.

It was September 13th, 2001, my first day at university. I opened the classroom door. A beautiful girl with long, dark hair was sitting at the back of the classroom. She was reading a book and taking some notes. People were talking and laughing. It was raining outside. 

Ready to Practice?

Click here to try an exercise to practice the past continuous tense positive forms.

Click here to try an exercise to practice the past continuous tense mixed forms.

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