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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

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 guys i have a quick question here in this sentence :

yesterday, i _____ (watch) television when my father ______(read) a book.

Here we have to actions in the past and the rule of past continous is that :

Past perfect before when and simple past after :

yesterday, i was watching television when my father read a book.

But i fount the correct answer :
yesterday, i was watching television when my father was reading a book.

Hi breezyabdo,

Both versions are gramatically possible, but only one logically fits the context.

 

We can use past simple with a past continous form to show an event which happens in the middle of another event:

I answered the phone while I was eating my dinner.

> I am in the middle of eating when I answer the phone.

 

We can use two past continuous forms when two events occur at the same time and continue:

The phone was ringing while I was eating my dinner.

> Both events are ongoing; I let the phone ring and keep on eating.

 

Now, in your context if you use a past simple (my father read a book) it would suggest that in the time you were watching TV he started and finished a book. It's possible that he's a super-fast reader, or that it is a very short book, but it's more likely that these were two ongoing events rather than one happening entirely during another.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Team,
In these
1. When I got to work, I realized I wasn't wearing my watch.
2. When I got to work, I realized I hadn't wore my watch.
1)Could you plz tell me these sentences have the same meaning?
2) When to use each (P.simple or P.perfect).
I mean both tenses have happened-before-meaning. How to decide to use?
Thank You!!!

Hello DaniWeebKage,

You can find our pages on the use of the past perfect here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/perfect-aspect

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/past-perfect

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/talking-about-the-past

 

As you'll see from the information on those pages, we use perfect forms, whether present, past or future, when the earlier event has an influence on the later event. It's not only a question of sequence, but of relevance. If the earlier event affects the later situation in some important way, then we link them using a perfect form.

For example:

I ate before I went to the party.

[two events: eating and going to the party; no connetion is emphasised]

I had eaten before I went to the party.

[the earlier event is connected in some way - presumably, the speaker is telling us that he or she was not hungry when they went to the party]

 

You can see from this that the context and intent of the speaker is key.

I won't comment directly on your examples as they contain a few errors and the very 'wear' (rather than 'put on' or 'take') is problematic and would need a very long explanation of a very unlikely context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Please what the correct answer for the following:

Just as he was going home, his friend was talking / talked to him about their future.

Hello a1981z,

If this is from a test or exercise, 'was talking' is probably the intended answer. This means that they were talking at the same time they were going home -- both actions are happening together.

If the verb were 'talked', it would be odd (though not impossible I think) because the talking happens in the time he was going home, though not during the whole action of going home.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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