The past continuous is formed from the past tense of be with the -ing form of the verb:

We use the past continuous to talk about the past:

  • for something which continued before and after another action:

The children were doing their homework when I got home.

Compare:


I got home. The children did their homework.
and
The children did their homework when I got home.


As I was watching television the telephone rang.


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 particular time:

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

Compare:

At eight o’clock I wrote some letters.

In July she was working in McDonald’s.

  • .to show that something continued for some time:

My head was aching.
Everyone was shouting.

  • for something that was happening again and again:

I 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.

Exercise

Comments

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'.

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

Kirk

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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

One more question, please.
Can I say 'All of the last decade I was working on this project three times a week'?

Hi gerol2000

Yes, that is correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Kirk. But would you tell me if I can say 'I was waiting for 2 hours that day/week/morning' without relative clause in case I go on with a few more sentences as follows 'During that period of time a few fully packed busses just passed by.

Hello gerol2000,

Yes, that is fine. The action in the past continuous is in progress as the other event takes place.

Generally, when we use the past continuous it forms the background to other events. These can be specific (as in your examples) or implied, which is why we often use the past continuous to establish background situations (It was raining).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for your explanations. One thing is certain, English is not easy at all!

thank you. I have another question: is there any difference in meaning between "they were meeting secretely after school" and "they met secretely after school" for example yesterday, every week, etc. Is it possible to use either past simple or past continuous in this example, without difference in meaning?

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