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

hi kirk
The other day I was waiting for a bus when …

why you use the end of the sentence wh form. how is possible. kindly clarify me

hello sir.
A and B are talking on the phone.
B says: i was just calling to see if i get a role in your movie.

my question is why B uses past continuous tense? talking on the phone is still in the present moment.
i think B should say " I'm just calling to see...."

please explain.

Hello ahmednagar,

Both the past continuous and the present continuous are correct here. It's not really a question of grammar but of conventions of use, and both forms are quite common. I would say that the past continuous form is perhaps seen as slightly more polite or formal, but both are very commonly used.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you so much.

Can one use the past progressive of a verb without "was" or "were"?
Is there anything wrong with:
Her sister ran by slapping her feet on the floor.
or
Her sister ran by slapping her feet on the floor and holding her sides.

I include the second version because I wondered about mixing simple and progressive instead like this:
Her sister ran by slapping her feet on the floor while she held her sides.

I run into this quite a bit where I'm torn between an 'ed ending and a 'ing. even though I'm using simple past for the most part and never using "was" or "were" when I'm tempted to jam an 'ing in there.

Hello Mark_R,

The structure you are describing here is a participle clause. We have a page describing how these are formed and used. You can find it here and I think it will explain the structure clearly.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Team.
I found this conversation recently,
" We can't decide. We were thinking about our baby's name ".
================
Is it possible if I make combining sentence between them (The Present Tense with The Past Continous Tense)
" We can't decide when we were thinking about our baby's name".
Or they have to be independent of each other?
Would you like to exlplain, please?
Thank you very much.

Hi, Team.
I found this conversation recently.
A : How's your baby? Have you got a name yet?
B : We can't decide. We were thinking about our baby's name, John.
=================
Is it possible if I make combining sentence between them (The Present Tense with The Past Continous Tense) :
" We can't decide when we were thinking about our baby's name, John."
Or they have to be independent of each other?
Would you like to explain, please?
Thank you very much.

It should be as follow
1.We could'nt decide while we were thinking about our baby's name
2.Whie we were thinking about our baby's name.We could'nt decide yet.

To make it sounds nicely should be like this:
A : How's your baby? Have you got a name yet?
B: We've not decided yet.We're just think about.

Travis Walker

Dear Team,

Kindly clarify on below.

The children were doing their homework when I got home.

When I get home the children are doing their homework.

Are both the sentence correct. If yes how to know where to use present progressive and past progressive.

Regards,
Milan

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