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

Hi,
While I was leaning English grammar, I met a sentence as below:
- I know Doug was working late at the office because I saw him when I was leaving.
I don't understand why past continuous tense is used for the 'work' verb ('was working'). In my opinion, it should be past simple tense ('worked').
Please help me explain it in detail.
Thank you!
Best,
David

Hello David,

You could say 'worked' and it would also be correct. It depends on what you mean to say, but in general the past simple would simply indicate that you saw Doug at the office after hours whereas the past continuous could be used to emphasise that you saw the working in progress. This could be appropriate, for example, when a friend of yours says that she saw Doug at a restaurant at the same time you saw him at the office.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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.

It depends on what comes after your sentences: I was practising every day, three times a day. until my teacher told me to practise less. The first part of your sentence is incomplete, it requires an action that interrupts the first action, stops it or changes it.
With your second sentence, You have not completed it. You have to say Last year I went to the cinema every weekend.
If you want to use the past progressive in this sentences then you must conclude, change or stop the first action, e.g. Last year, I was going to the cinema every weekend, when I realised that it was affecting my eyesight so I stopped going to often.

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

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