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

working
playing
living
talking

etc.

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

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Past continuous and past simple

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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:

Comments

Sir explain to me if this sentence is wrong or correct?
"As I was walking through the main building, I saw the director entering into his car and drove away."

Hello azeezabideen,

I would change the sentence slightly:

As I was walking through the main building, I saw the director get into his car and drive away.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

From the sentence above: "As I walking through the main building, I saw the director get into his car and drive away."

I am confused, why not "gets" and "drives" in the above sentence instead of "get" and "drive". Please help to clarify.

Hello Raman,

The structure here is: see (someone) do something

The form of the verb is the base form, not the present simple. It is possible to use a present participle too:

I saw him sing a song. [I saw the whole song]

I saw him singing a song. [I saw him sing part of a song, but I stopped watching before the end]

Note in the first example we use 'sing' (the base form) even though the sentence is describing a past event.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Past simple and past continuous both can use to describe something that happened again and again, so what's the exactly difference between them?

Hello Cesar98,

A continuous form indicates not only the time of an action but also the perspective of the speaker, i.e. how they see the action. A past simple form shows that the speaker sees the action as finished in some way, whereas a continuous form shows that the speaker sees it as unfinished or temporary in some way. I'd suggest you read our continuous aspect page for more on this, but please know this is a subtle distinction that usually takes some time and practice to master.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Can you explain more with example?

hi sir

it has been a long time since i wrote something, so i would like to inform you about my absence that i was attending your online English coaching class[futurelearn] . This course could help me to improve a lots of usage that how to use in different situations in general purpose of communication and also improved some knowledge about British country side . even though i am not able to handle English in speaking because , i don't know how to improve oneself , i don't have who some one they know English as well and no one ever teach me as long as my mistakes so that i wanted to know that mistakes on writing , In that sense i suppose i can improve English so i expect that you can.

Hi Sir,
I have been preparing to IELTS exam, because I want to got it next several times, So, till now I can't use grammar very well, I wrote this message while I was reading your explanation for past tense and also present tense, I have been feeling embarrassed when use grammar, and that is a big deal when I have been dealing with them especially in writing they would taken more time when think what I want to use.
And as you know, the timing is very important there, in other side I tried to use grammar in my writing here, to show you if I wrote in correct way.
Thus, and after that can you help me and tell me the easy way to understand to use grammar, I asked more than one, but unfortunately I have been problem.
Thank you.
Maisa Omar.

Hi Maisa,

I think our dedicated IELTS preparation site, TakeIELTS, will be very useful for you. You can find tips and suggestions, information about the exam, practice exercises and mock papers there.

As far as improving grammar goes, there are several tools you can use to check things. You can use the search facility which you can see on the right of each page. You can use the index of our grammar pages, where you will see links to various sections. We can also explain things for you in the comments sections (this answer and your question are both in the comment section for this page), as far as time allows.

A good tip for improving grammar is to keep a record of mistakes you make. When you do an exercise on a given area (for example, the present perfect), make a note of how you do, and what kind of problems you have. Then you'll have a guide as to what to study in order to improve. Also, read in English as much as possible. You'll pick up a lot of correct phrases and structures and develop a feel for when to use them and, though it won't feel like you're learning grammar, it will make a big difference. Try to spend a certain amount of time every day reading a couple of articles from English-language sources (newspapers, blogs etc) on the internet.

I hope those suggestions are helpful.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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