The past continuous is formed from the past tense of be with the -ing form of the verb:

We use the past continuous to talk about the past:

  • for something which continued before and after another action:

The children were doing their homework when I got home.

Compare:


I got home. The children did their homework.
and
The children did their homework when I got home.


As I was watching television the telephone rang.


This use of the past continuous is very common at the beginning of a story:

The other day I was waiting for a bus when …
Last week as I was driving to work … 

  • for something that happened before and after a particular time:

It was eight o’clock. I was writing a letter.

Compare:

At eight o’clock I wrote some letters.

In July she was working in McDonald’s.

  • .to show that something continued for some time:

My head was aching.
Everyone was shouting.

  • for something that was happening again and again:

I was practising every day, three times a day.
They were meeting secretly after school.
They were always quarrelling.

  • with verbs which show change or growth:

The children were growing up quickly.
Her English was improving.
My hair was going grey.
The town was changing quickly.

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Good evening.
I'm a little bit confused about this part
*(we use past continuous) for something that was happening again and again:
1.I was practising every day, three times a day.
what about this one is this correct ?
2.Last year,I was going to the cinema every weekend.

Hello Ram ous,

It is grammatically correct to say either of these:

I practised every day, three times a day.

I was practising every day, three times a day.

 

The choice depends on how you see the action and what you wish to emphasise. The first suggests that the action was a normal part of your life for an extended time. The second suggests that the practising was temporary, or that you are describing a particular period which was different from other times - for example, you normally practised more or less than three times a day.

These differences are not factual so much as questions of emphasis and perspective.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I came across the following sentences:

"We watched the man fall as if in slow motion. He was flying through the air". 


and was wondering whether I can say:

"We were watching the man fall as if in slow motion. He flew through the air". 


Hello Adi Shakti,

You could say 'were watching' instead of 'watched' if that was appropriate for what you wanted to say. Using 'flew' after 'were watching', though, is a bit incongruous because the idea of the man falling in slow motion suggests an action in progress, which would be indicated with a past continuous form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Kirk for the clarification.

Hi,

While I understand that the past continuous is often used with the simple past to explain a longer action in the past interrupted by a shorter action, or used with past time expressions such as "last night, yesterday etc". However, my question is would it be possible to use the past continuous as it is without any simple past or past time expressions. In other words, can the past continuous be used to simply emphasize that an action was ongoing for some time in the past, such as "I was resting." or "I was eating."? Also, may I know if this is what you mean under the section "to show that something continued for some time"?

Thanks!
- Tim

Hello Tim,

Yes, you can certainly use the past continuous form in a short sentence with no other time markers -- your example of 'I was resting' is a good one. Choosing which verb form to use often depends in part on how we view the action. In the case of 'I was resting', this could, for example, be a response to 'What were you doing yesterday at 5:00? I called you and no one answered.' In such a context, you're talking about an action that was ongoing at the time and this is why 'I was resting' is the best choice. There are of course many other possible scenarios, but I hope this gives you an idea of what I mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher, I was told that I should delete "was" in the following sentence. Can you please explain why?

I saw a man was trying to cross a road.

Thank you so much.

Dear Team,

Kindly clarify on below.

The children were doing their homework when I got home.

When I get home the children are doing their homework.

Are both the sentence correct. If yes how to know where to use present progressive and past progressive.

Regards,
Milan

Hello Milan Kumar Padhy,

The first sentence (were doing... got) describes one particular situation in the past.

The second sentence (are doing... get) describes something which is generally true.

In particular contexts, such as narratives, the meaning might change but these are the most likely meanings of these forms.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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