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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:


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,



The LearnEnglish Team

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,
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.


Best wishes,
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.



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?