The Formula of Past Continuous Tense
We make the past continuous tense with the auxiliary verb (was, were) and the present participle or continuous form of the main verb. The actions described by this tense do not have a known beginning or end.
Structure: Subject + was/were + (Verb1) +ing + Object
- I was sitting at the café yesterday.
- They were sitting at the café yesterday.
- He/she/ was studying all morning yesterday.
- You were studying all morning yesterday.
- They were studying all morning yesterday.
In negative sentences, add not after was/were. It is often contracted as wasn’t/weren’t.
Structure: Subject + was/were + not + (Verb1) + ing + Object
- She was not eating lunch with her friends.
- She was not solving the sums.
- They were not telling us yesterday about their problem.
In interrogative form, invert was/were with the subject of the sentences.
Structure: Was/Were + Subject + (Verb1) + ing + Object
- Washe making a noise?
- Were they making noise?
- What was he studying last night?
Note: Use was with a singular subject, i.e., he, she, it, etc., and were with “I” and plural subject we, you and they, etc.
Uses of The Past Continuous Tense
We use it in English to describe actions that were happening over time in the past when some other event or action took place. In this case, the past continuous and simple past tense is used together. Both clauses can be joined by using whenat the beginning of the clause that uses simple past tense and uses whileat the beginning of the clause with past continuous tense. When both the actions are in progress simultaneously, past continuous tense can be used in both clauses.
- He was studying his history homework at 9:00 last night. (It means he started his study first, and this work was happening continuously when 9:00 came)
- We were talking about him when he called.
- Was Ahmad sleeping at home when the light went out?
- While we were eating lunch, the dog jumped on the table.
- While I was sleeping, the circuit took fire.
- She was working in a hotel when her sister was studying in high school.
- While I was studying, my friend was watching a movie.
- We were leaving when the phone rang.
- While we were walking to the garden, it began to rain.
- My brother hurt his hand while he was working in the garden.
There are many situations in which both past simple and past continuous tense can be used.
- Ahmad played cricket all yesterday morning.
- Ahmad was playing cricket all yesterday morning.
- Cristina watched movies all night.
- Cristina was watching movies all night.
- She practiced piano all morning yesterday.
- She was practicing piano all morning yesterday.
It describes temporary situations that continued for some time in the past.
- He was working from 8:00 to 5:00 yesterday.
- Before her speech in the university, she was practicing five-seven every day.
- Before her speech in the university, she practiced five-seven every day.
This tense is also used when we want to make a definite arrangement for the future in the past.
- I enquired him what he was doing next Friday. (This is a definite arrangement for the future in the past)
Past Continuous and Past Simple Difference
They are sometimes used together when we want to indicate a longer action and a new action happened in the middle of that action; we use past continuous tense for longer action and past simple for the new action.
- When I saw you, you were playing cricket?
- They were talking about him when he called.
- I was sleeping when the phone rang.
- They were eating lunch when I came.
The past continuous describes gradual processes while the past simple describe that come to an end.
Past Continuous: The flood was getting faster and faster.
Past Simple: The flood got faster and faster.
For other times that an action happened over time in the past, a simple past is always used.
When past simple and past progressive use together, we use when and while to join the two clauses together.
- While we were playing, the rain came.
- The rain came when we were playing.
- She broke the cup when/while she was washing up.
- She was washing up when she broke the cup.
- She was writing on the board when the professor entered the class.
- What were they talking about when the train interrupted them?
Both past simple and past continuous are always okay when we are talking about only one action that happened overtime in the past.
She played the game all morning. (Past Simple)
She was playing the game all morning. (Past Continuous)
These two sentences have the same meaning, but the second sentence stresses that the action is continued for some time in the past.
Past Continuous Tense Further Examples
- They were studying physics at 9 am the day before yesterday.
- We were planning to arrange a party at my home, but we didn’t have time.
- She was reading a novel when I arrived.
- Her son wasn’t feeling well.
- What were they talking about when we knocked on the door?
- Where were you living for five years?
- Was she cooking when I called?
- Was the baby getting proper milk?
- What was he doing all night?
- The weather was getting colder.
- The children were singing the national anthem.
- The people shouted as the Prime Minister was speaking.
- She was walking on the phone when she slipped on a banana skin.
- I was studying English when I was in high school.
- He wasn’t watering the plants at 6 a.m. yesterday.