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

MultipleSelection_MTY2NDE=

Past continuous and past simple

GapFillTyping_MTYzMzI=

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

Hello... I´ve seen your comment. It´s too late, and you have probably already find the solution for your uestion. But just in case, here is my opinion: When saying "they were meeting secretly after school", you are expressing that this was something they did once and again... a repeated action, but also a temporary action or habit in the past. Instead, in "They met secretly after school", the reflected idea is that it happened only once, or that it was a steady habit in the past, (not temporary). Both uses are correct, but they express different ideas. Hope it was useful!

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

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

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, Peter.

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

Thanks a lot, Kirk.

Pages