You are here

Past continuous


Level: beginner

The past continuous is made from the past tense of the verb be and the –ing form of a verb:

I was
You were
He was
She was
It was
We were
You were
They were



We use the past continuous to talk about the past:

  • for something which happened before and after another action:

The children were doing their homework when I got home.

Compare: The children did their homework when (= after) I got home.

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 specific time:

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

Compare: At eight o'clock I wrote (= started writing) some letters.

  • to show that something continued for some time:

My head was aching.
Everyone was shouting.

  • for something that happened again and again:

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.

We do not normally use the past continuous with stative verbs. We use the past simple instead:

When I got home, I really needed (NOT was needinga shower.

Past continuous


Past continuous and past simple


Level: intermediate

Past continuous and hypotheses

We can also use the past continuous to refer to the present or future in hypotheses (when we imagine something). See these pages:


Hello Aladin710,

This page deals with the meaning of the past continuous. You can find information about forming negatives of all verb forms on this page:


As it says on that page, we make negatives by adding 'not' after the first part of the verb:

He was reading > He was not reading.

They were walking > They were not walking.



The LearnEnglish Team


Thanks a lot, Peter.
Would I think that Past Cnts tense can be used contextually with any of these time markers 'for 2 hours, all day/night long, during that summer, from 5 till 6, all my life, the whole evening, in 1987, last year' ?
For example, 'In 1987 I was watching films for 2 hours a day two times a week every month'.

Thank you, Kirk. Yet, tell me please, if this is okey 'I was sleeping 5 minutes an hour all day yesterday.

Thank you, Peter. I meant I spent 5 minutes sleeping every hour all day yesterday.

Hi gerol2000

In the proper context, your sentence makes sense. Out of context, though, it makes no sense, as you can see from Peter's reply.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello gerol2000,

The phrase '5 minutes an hour' is certainly not correct. I'm not sure what you want to say, however, so I can't suggest and alternative.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi gerol2000

Yes, you could use it in the appropriate context with all of those markers except perhaps 'all my life'. If you were a ghost speaking of the time when you were alive ('all my life'), then that would work, but if you are still alive, a present perfect continuous form would probably be better (e.g. 'I have been working on my book for two hours a day all my life since I was 18.'). Perhaps I'm not thinking of some other context where the past continuous would work, but in general I think it wouldn't work.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to ask whether or not this statement is grammatically correct: That morning I was waiting for the bus for two hours when suddenly a car came round the corner, hit a lamp post at the crossroads and turned over.

Hi gerol2000

The verb 'was waiting' is not wrong, but 'had been waiting' (the past perfect continuous) would be better. Also, the phrasal verb 'turn over' is not correct here. I'd suggest 'flip over' instead. Apart from these two small things, well done!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team