Look at these examples to see how the past continuous and past simple are used.
When I woke up this morning, it was snowing.
I was sleeping when you called me.
Try this exercise to test your grammar.
- Grammar test 1
Read the explanation to learn more.
The past continuous and the past simple help us to show how two past actions or situations are connected.
The past simple shows us that an action was in the past, not in the present. Regular past simple verbs have -ed at the end (e.g. called, played, arrived). Irregular verbs have a different form, usually with a different vowel sound (e.g. wake → woke, break → broke, feel → felt).
My parents called me yesterday.
I woke up early this morning.
Sam played basketball when he was at university.
We make the negative with didn't and the infinitive verb.
My parents didn't call me yesterday.
I didn't wake up early this morning.
We make the question form with did and then the subject and infinitive verb.
Did you wake up early this morning?
Did Sam play basketball when he was at university?
The past continuous shows us that the action was already in progress at a certain time in the past.
What were you doing at 8 p.m. last night? I was studying.
This means that I started studying before 8 p.m. and I continued after 8 p.m.
The past continuous can also show that an activity was in progress for some time, not just for a moment.
We were cleaning the house all morning.
We make the past continuous with was or were and the -ing form of the verb.
She couldn't come to the party. She was working.
Three years ago, we were living in my home town.
I tried to give him some advice, but he wasn't listening.
What were you doing this time last year?
Past continuous and past simple
When we use these two tenses together, it shows us that the past simple action happened in the middle of the past continuous action, while it was in progress.
While I was studying, I suddenly felt sleepy.
We often use these tenses to show an action interrupting another action.
I broke my leg when I was skiing.
As I was going to work, I saw an old friend.
We were watching television when the power went off.
Can you see a difference in the meaning of these two sentences?
When the guests arrived, Jane was cooking dinner.
When the guests arrived, Jane cooked dinner.
In the first one, Jane started cooking dinner before the guests arrived. We know that because it uses the past continuous. In the second sentence, the guests arrived first and then Jane started cooking.
Do this exercise to test your grammar again.
- Grammar test 2
Sorry if this questions is re-posted due to I have been logged out somehow.
I have a question about your practice, can you please clarify:
At 6 p.m. yesterday it _____ dark. ==> why I cannot use "already got"
They _____ the shop when I got there, so I couldn't go in and buy anything. ==> why I cannot use "already closed" ?
I understand the meanings if using the past continuous, but the past simple is still valid, isn't it?
No worries :)
The word "already" shows that the action happened before a particular moment. So if the meaning is that that it got dark before 6 pm, then it would need the past perfect to show that: At 6 p.m. yesterday it had already got dark. If you say "it already got dark" (past simple), it's not as clear what moment "already" refers to.
Similarly, in the second sentence, if the meaning is that they closed the shop first and then I got there too late, it should be in the past perfect: They had already the shop when I got there.
You can say They closed (past simple) the shop when I got there, which means that they either closed the shop at the same time I got there, or a moment after. But, these meanings don't make sense if you say "already", since that shows the action happened before that moment.
I hope that helps to understand it.
Dear teacher Jonathan,
Thank you so much. I understand it now.
A-Oh. - What's going on with you?
B- I got no sleep last night. A-Why?
B- My grandmother has this new boyfriend...
...and they're both kind of insecure in bed, so...
So they're constantly having to reassure each other that they're having a good time.
why does character B use present continuous to tell a story that happened in the past, instead of past simple?
We sometimes use the present simple and present continuous to tell stories, especially personal stories about things that have recently happened to us (like in this example).
The present tense kind of makes the story more real -- it's as if we are re-living the story as we tell it.
All the best,
Could you please also help me with the following:
While it was raining, I saw you.
It was raining when I saw you.
When I saw you, It was raining.
I saw you While it was raining.
what is the difference between these sentences?
There aren't any significant differences between 'when' and 'while' in these sentences.
The order of the clauses can be used to emphasise one clause or the other -- that is, whether what's important is that it was raining or that you saw me -- but without knowing more about the situation or your purpose for saying these, I'm afraid it's hard to say for sure why the speaker would use on order of the other.
All the best,
I have a doubt, a practice book considers the following sentence to be wrong:
"Nick *was lying* down on the grass for a while, next to some tourists who *fed* the ducks."
And this one is correct:
"Nick *lay* down on the grass for a while, next to some tourists who *were feeding* the ducks."
The differences are the tenses of the two verbs in both sentences.
But I cannot see why the wrong one is wrong... I've already checked the theory in several sources
Generally, the past continuous describes an event which provides a background against which another, more important event occurs. Presumably, Nick is the hero of our little story and we are more interested in his action than that of the tourists. That would imply that the act of feeding the ducks is the background for the main action, and we do not have any information (or interest) in how long the feeding continued. In such a context the past continuous is appropriate.
The LearnEnglish Team
Oh!! Excellent and thank you very much for your time and answer. Now I see the point.
PD: This was my first message posted on a forum. I didn't see your reply at first. And I sent the question again in another place or way I guess. Sorry! Anyway it is concluded, thanks.