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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:


it is, thank you very much

Great explanations, thank you so much

This explanation of the use of past continuous is really wonderful. I'll give it a try tomorrow in the classroom.

Hello everyone.

I want to thank everyone that have a hand for this site success. After a few days of use of the site i fund it very useful and that is the reason for my comment.
My english is poor until the now, but i wish to improve it and to be a good English speaker/writing.

Best regards

Hello Hasssan,

Thanks for letting us know that you find LearnEnglish useful - that's what we're here for!

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,  What's the different in saying :  Last week as I was driving to work …   vs.  Last week when I was driving to work...  In the eventuality of both sentences are grammatically correct, which one is more formal?
Is there any place on the site where I can see the proper usage of words as "as" ?  Is it an adverb? or a conjunction? 

Hi MayelaM,
'As' here is a conjunction used to link words, phrases or clauses.  It can be used in several ways, but in your example it is used to show an event happened at the same time as another event.  Both of the sentences are correct and neither is particularly formal, though I would say the version with 'as' sounds slightly more formal than the version with 'when'.
You can find more information on sentence structure, including conjunctions, here.
You can find more information on 'as' here.
I hope that helps to clarify it for you.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone, I've got a problem with the solutions concerning the past continuous exercise on the following page :
I can't figure out the solution 3 and 5 :
( Something that continued before and after another action ) according to this site corresponds to the sentence ( Just as I was falling asleep, I heard a strange noise.) Well, I think that hearing a voice is an action that is much much shorter than an action that someone would potentially be doing at the time of a specific incident. So ( Something that happened before and after a particular time ) would go for the sentence ( Just as I was falling asleep, I heard a strange noise.) because hearing a noise happens and is generally not something that continues and ( Something that continued before and after another action ) would go for the sentence ( What were you doing at the time of the incident ? ) because in general when we do something it continues.
Anyway, could you please help me get the thing ? Thank you 

Hello.. I think that  "as I was falling asleep" is the action which happened before and after another action, in this case "I heard a noise".
It's like "I heard a noise while I was falling asleep" or not?

Hello Mr Jeremy Bee and thank you so much for your attention to my question. I hope a very happy year for you and your colleagues.