Past Continuous Tense: When And How To Use It!

The past continuous tense is a verb tense that shows that something was happening at a specific time in the past.

We also know past continuous tense as past progressive tense. It is often used to describe past ongoing actions, events, and situations.

In this blog post, we will explore how to use the past continuous tense, when to use it, and some helpful tips. You will learn the form and common uses of this tense.

What is the Past Continuous Tense?

Past continuous tense is the tense we use to talk about the action or event that was going on for a certain duration of time in the past and finished in the past. It can also be used to describe an action that was happening at a specific time in the past.

This tense focuses more on the duration of the action or event.

The past continuous tense is formed by using the past tense of the verb “to be” (was/were) and adding the present participle of the main verb (the verb that describes the action).

Let’s look at some examples of the past continuous tense:

  • I was running.
  • They were working.
  • She was singing.
  • It was raining.
  • Kids were playing. 

All the above examples refer to the actions or events that were ongoing for a duration of time in the past.

You may think that why we can’t just say, “I ran,” “They worked,” “She sang.”

“I ran,” “They worked,” “She sang” these sentences are in the simple past tense. There is a difference between simple past tense and past continuous tense.

Simple Past Tense Vs Past Continuous Tense

We use simple past tense to express an action or event that happened at a specific point in time in the past. However, when we want to give importance to the duration of the action, we use past continuous tense.

That means you can use past continuous tense when you want to talk about something happening during a time period in the past.

So, when you want to say what you did in the morning. You use simple past and say, “I ran in the morning,” “I had breakfast in the morning,” etc.

But, when you want to say what you were doing in the morning (during a period of time). You use past continuous tense and say, “I was running in the morning.”

So, when you say, “I ran in the morning.” Here the focus is more on the action.

But, when you say, “I was running in the morning.” Here the focus is more on the duration of the action.

Imagine you started to run at 6 am and stopped at 6.30 am. So, to express the ongoing action (during a period of time) in the morning, you can say, “I was running in the morning,” Or you could also say, “I was running from 6 am to 6.30 am.” 

Here are some more examples of the past continuous tense in action:

  • It was raining all day yesterday.
  • They were playing all this morning.
  • She was crying last night.
  • He was working this afternoon.
  • Alex was watching TV till 2 am last night.

Past Continuous Tense Rule

In the above examples of past continuous tense, we have used the helping verbs (Auxiliary): was and were. We use the helping and the main verbs in the past continuous tense.

Rules for Past Continuous Tense:

SubjectAuxiliaryVerb Form
IwasV+ing
He/She/ItwasV+ing
We/You/TheywereV+ing

Past Continuous Tense Rule

Verb Form – The “ing” form

Check out the Present continuous tense to learn the verb “ing” form.

Learn the 12 Tenses in English with Examples

Past Continuous Tense Structure

Past continuous tense structure and examples
Past Continuous Tense Structure

1. Past Continuous Affirmative Sentence Structure 

Subject + was/were + V+ing + Object

Let’s look at some examples:

I was working.

You were running.

We were sleeping.

He was going to school.

It was raining.

The girls were shouting.

John was watching a movie.

Alex and Ruby were laughing.

2. Past Continuous Negative Sentence Structure

Subject + was/were + not + V+ing + Object

Let’s look at some examples:

I was not working.

You were not running.

We were not sleeping.

He was not going to school.

It was not raining.

The girls were not shouting.

John was not watching a movie.

Alex and Ruby were not laughing.

Contraction or Sort Form in Past Continuous Negative Sentences

Was not –   wasn’t

Were not – weren’t

I wasn’t working.

You weren’t running.

We weren’t sleeping.

He wasn’t going to school.

It wasn’t raining.

The girls weren’t shouting.

John wasn’t watching a movie.

Alex and Ruby weren’t laughing.

3. Past Continuous Question Sentence Structure

Was/Were + Subject + V+ing + Object?

Let’s look at some examples:

Was I working?

Were you running?

Were we sleeping?

Was he going to school?

Was it raining?

Were the girls shouting?

Was John watching a movie?

Were Alex and Ruby laughing?

4. Past Continuous Interrogative Negative Sentence Structure

Was/Were + Subject + not + V+ing + Object?

Let’s look at some examples:

Was I not working?

Were you not running?

Were we not sleeping?

Was he not going to school?

Was it not raining?

Were the girls not shouting?

Was John not watching a movie?

Were Alex and Ruby not laughing?

Contraction or Sort Form in Past Continuous Interrogative Negative Sentence

Wasn’t I working?

Weren’t you running?

Weren’t we sleeping?

Wasn’t he going to school?

Wasn’t it raining?

Weren’t the girls shouting?

Wasn’t John watching a movie?

Weren’t Alex and Ruby laughing?

The common use of Past Continuous Tense

Let’s look at when we use the past continuous tense.

Ongoing action or long action in the past

We use past continuous tense to talk about or describe an action that was ongoing in the past.

For example, Steve was sleeping all day. It was an ongoing action or a long action that happened in the past.

Kids were playing in the park this afternoon.

He was having breakfast a few minutes ago.

Alex and Ruby were sitting here an hour ago.

An action that was happening during a moment in the past

For example, Yesterday at 6 pm, Judy was cooking dinner. Here the moment was “at 6 pm,” and during that moment Judy was cooking.

Amy was doing her homework at 4 pm.

They were working at 10 O’clock in the morning.

An ongoing action interrupted by another action in the past 

We also use past continuous tense to describe an ongoing action in the past that was interrupted by another action. 

For example, I was working when you called me. Here “was working” is the ongoing action in the past interrupted by the other action “called.” 

We use simple past with the word “when” for the interrupting action; “When you called me.” 

The sentence’s order can also be changed.

I was working when you called me

Or, 

When you called me, I was working. 

Note: We need to put a comma (,) between the two actions (sentences) if we start with “when.”

We were having dinner when my uncle arrived.

Or, When my uncle arrived, we were having dinner. 

Susan was sleeping when her husband came home

Or, When Susan’s husband came home, she was sleeping.

He was running when I saw him

Or, When I saw him, he was running. 

She was working at a coffee shop when I met her

Or, When I met her, she was working at a coffee shop.

Two actions happening at the same time in the past

We use past continuous tense to describe two actions happening at the same time in the past. 

For both actions, we use past continuous tense. Also, we use the word “while” to show that both actions were happening at the same time.

For example: 

While Steve was walking, Monica was running

Here both the actions “walking” and “running” were happening at the same time. And, to show that both actions were happening simultaneously, we used the word “while.” 

We can also change the sentence’s order here as we did with “when.” But, with “while,” we can say the same sentence in 3 different ways. 

So, instead of saying, “While Steve was walking, Monica was running,” we can say, 

“Monica was running while Steve was walking.” 

Or, we can also change the order of the actions as both the actions were happening at the same time. It doesn’t matter which action we place at the beginning with “while.” 

So, instead of saying, “While Steve was walking, Monica was running,” we could also say, “While Monica was running, Steve was walking.”

Some more examples: 

Emily was reading while her brother was playing.

While I was sitting on the terrace, it was raining. 

John was talking on the phone while he was driving.

While we were waiting, we were reading the newspaper.

WH Questions

WH question words: – what, where, who, why, how, etc.

The sentence structure for making a question in past continuous tense with WH question word would be:

WH + was/were + subject + verb + ing?

Let’s look at some examples:

Why was she crying last night?

Where were they going?

Where were you learning spoken English?

Who was sitting here?

What were you thinking?

Why were you talking so loud?

In conclusion, the past continuous tense is a verb tense used to describe an ongoing action in the past. It is formed by using the past tense of the verb “to be” (was/were) plus the present participle of the verb (the base form plus -ing).

The past continuous tense can be used to describe an ongoing action, to emphasize the duration of an action, or to show that an action was interrupted.

Some helpful Tips for Using the Past Continuous Tense

1. Use the past continuous tense to describe actions that were happening at a specific time in the past.

2. Use the past continuous tense to describe multiple actions that were happening at the same time in the past.

3. Use the past continuous tense to describe an action happening in the background while another action was taking place.

4. Do not use the past continuous tense with stative verbs such as know, want, love, hate, believe, etc.

5. Do not use the past continuous tense to describe actions that are completed or that happened once and were not ongoing. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well at using the past continuous tense like a pro!

FAQs

What is the past continuous tense?

The past continuous tense is the verb tense used to describe an ongoing action that took place in the past.

How is the past continuous tense formed?

The past continuous tense is formed by using the past tense of the verb “to be” (was/were) + the present participle of the main verb (ing form).

What are some examples of the past continuous tense?

Some examples of the past continuous tense are:
I was studying for my test.
They were playing soccer.
She was cooking dinner.
I was walking to the store when I saw him.
Yesterday at 3 p.m., I was doing my homework and listening to music.

How does the past continuous tense differ from the simple past tense?

The simple past tense is used to describe completed actions that took place in the past, while the past continuous tense is used to describe ongoing actions in the past.

Leave a Comment