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

Yes. It's true. So far, I have read six books. My English was improving obviously. I used to write ten pages every day for one year. I came in London six years ago and couldn't speak English at all. And, now I completed a level in management, but further to get the job related to my qualification, I am required to have excellent communication skills. I will manage cos I love English. It's the most beautiful language,

hey there! ^_^ please help me out with this dilemma . which of the two sentences is correct? thanks!! <3
1. Was I sleeping when you left?
2. Was I sleeping when you went?

Hello I.R.,

Both sentences are correct, though of course the meanings are slightly different due to the use of 'leave' in 1 and 'go' in 2. You might want to look up these two words in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online search box on the right.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Sir! ^_^

Sir explain to me about past participles, also I want to know difference amongst be,been,being,to be,be to..

Hello uthirapathi,

You might find something to help you on the introductory page of the Verbs section of our Grammar Reference. If not, could you please ask a more specific question? We're happy to help, but we get dozens of questions every day and such a broad question requires a lengthy response that is not directly related to any page on our site.

Thanks.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

shorter action and longer action**

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

From the examples above I realized that we can use while/when to subordinate sentences but I'm not sure we can use all with the same meaning. So, I studied in other sites and found that we use WHEN to introduce the sentence that describes the shorter sentence and WHILE to introduce the sentence that describes the longer one or two sentences that describes simultaneous actions. Is that correct? I'd really apreciatte further explanations about this subject.

Thanks!

Carlos.

hi!
my apology today i asked many questions please don't get tired of me. here another question i would like to ask. are these sentenses below they got the same meaning?
1. The children were doing their homework when I got home.
2. I got home. The children did their homework.
3. The children did their homework when I got home.
from what i understood sentense 2 & 3 mean the same thing but not sentense 1. because from sentense 1 the children were still doing their homework the moment i got home but in 2 & 3 children already done their homework the moment i got home. am i right?

Hi Oscas Po,

Not quite. What you say about sentence 1 is correct: the children started doing their homework before you arrived home and were still doing it when you got there.

Sentences 2 and 3 show a sequence rather than actions occuring at the same time. The implied sequence is that first you arrive home and then the children do their homework. However, there is a difference.

Sentence 2 does not tell us when the children started to do their homework. It could have been immediately after you arrive, or it could have been later. In addition, the sequence here is not explicitly confirmed; it is only our guess from the order of the actions in the sentence. In certain contexts, it is possible that the order was different. For example, if someone asks 'How was you day yesterday?' Then you might answer 'Fine. I got home. The children did their homework. I went for a walk with the dog. I listened to some music...' Here it is not clear what the order of the events was as you are simply listing them as you recall them. We might assume that there is a certain sequence, but it is not explictly stated in the sentence.

Sentence 3 gives us a very clear sequence: it tells us that the the children started their homework when you arrived, as if they were waiting for you to arrive before starting, or perhaps you told them to do their homework upon arrival.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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