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



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


Past continuous and past simple


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:

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Submitted by mahjid on Mon, 07/01/2013 - 09:21


Hello Mr Jeremy Bee and thank you so much for your attention to my question. I hope a very happy year for you and your colleagues. 

Submitted by mahjid on Tue, 01/01/2013 - 08:35



Please look at this:

A: Where were you at five-thirty yesterday?

B: I ............................. at the movies.

a.was going to be          b.was

on my opinion "b" is true but my instructor says "a" is true. he says time expression "five thirty" (not five or six for example) suggests past continuous.

But I could agree with him if the question was in this form: "what were you doing at five-thirty yesterday?"

Am I wrong?


Hello mahjid!

Are you sure you've written the question and answer right? Answer a. looks very odd, and is certainly not right. Answer b is better. As for 'five thirty' - that is a time like any other, and as you say, unless the question was 'What were you doing at five thirty?', there is no reason to use past continuous.

Hope that helps!




Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Geetesh dixit on Wed, 21/11/2012 - 18:40

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Submitted by mahdawi on Sun, 30/09/2012 - 10:46


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Submitted by AliceLiddellL on Mon, 25/06/2012 - 00:58


Very useful site. I am happy for finding this possibility to improve my passion - English. 

Submitted by subtleglazed on Sat, 21/04/2012 - 07:09

Hi every one, I want to ask about was and/or were usage. In some occasion I've found 'were' used for I and it, such as in; "if I were to pluck..." or "it were made of straw and began to play." etc. I found these in a song lyrics and novels, I wonder whether or not there are another possibilities for using 'were' for I and it.. please explain to me, because as far as I know the form 'was' uses for I, she, he & it. Thank you.

Submitted by tyguerabi on Mon, 19/03/2012 - 04:54


hi! your web site is great and i am learning a lot. I am just wondering why i can not type answers to the boxes provided in some of your exercises. thank you.


Hello tyguerabi


Glad you like the website! Did you notice that some of the exercises give you the answers, and you only have to drag and drop them? If that's not the answer, I need some more information.


Can you tell me which pages or exercises exactly are giving you problems?

Also, which internet browser do you use?

Do you have the same problems on other computers when you come to our site?

Let me know, and we'll try to help!




Jeremy Bee

The Learn English Team