You are here

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

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 want to know the right answer for these sentences

1 while the plumber was repairing the washing machine, I .......(watched )or(was watching ) the news .
2 I am not sure, but they ................. (may well ) or ( will probably
accept his project

Hello shahed dalloul,

In 1, 'was watching' is the correct answer. The actions are simultaneous and when each finishes is not indicated.

In 2, 'will probably' is less certain than 'may well', so I'd say 'will probably' is a better answer since it begins with 'I'm not sure'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi can you please clear this confusion
Anika will win the prize
If I change it into past tense what will be the correct one-
Anika won the prize
Anika would win the prize

Hi Samin, 

The original sentence is a prediction about the future. If you want to maintain that meaning but move the time into the past, then would is the best option:

(I think that ) Anike will win the prize.

(I thought that) Anika would win the prize. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Team,
Could you tell me which one of mine is correct?
When I was opening the cupboard door, a pile of books fell out.
(Or)
When I opened the cupboard door, a pile of books fell out.
And Why?
Thanks a lot.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

The second one is correct as we consider opening a cupboard door to be an instantaneous action. Nothing falls out when the door is shut; things fall out once it is open, not during the process of opening.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? Is the following sentence correct?
- While I was reading the newspaper, my mother cooked.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that's fine. Depending on the situation, 'my mother was cooking' could also be correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again. What is the difference between the two situations.
1- While I was reading the newspaper, my mother cooked.
2- While I was reading the newspaper, my mother was cooking.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

2 focuses on the fact that both actions were happening at the same time. 1 could suggest that you were already reading when your mother started cooking and that she finished before you did.

You can read a little more about the use of these two tenses together on our Past continuous and past simple page.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages