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Past Continuous – Grammar

The past continuous is a tense that is used to express an ongoing action in the past that was happening at a specific moment of interruption, or that two ongoing actions in the past were happening at the same time.

Forming Past Continuous sentences

The past continuous is formed using was/were + present participle.

AffirmativeNegativeInterrogativeNeg. interrogative
I was working.I was not working.Was I working?Was I not working?
You were working.You were not working.Were you working?Were you not working?
He was working.He was not working.Was she working?Was he not working?
She was working.She was not working.Was he working?Was she not working?
It was working.It was not working.Was it working?Was it not working?
We were working.We were not working.Were we working?Were we not working?
They were working.They were not working.Were they working?Were they not working?

Contraction with Past Continuous

When we use the Past Continuous tense in speaking or informal writing, we often contract the words like this:

NegativeNegative interrogative
I wasn’t working.Wasn’t I working?
You weren’t working.Weren’t you working?
He wasn’t working.Wasn’t he working?
She wasn’t working.Wasn’t she working?
It wasn’t working.Wasn’t it working?
We weren’t working.Weren’t we working?
They weren’t working.Weren’t they working?

Using Past Continuous

Use 1 Interrupted action in the past

We often use Past Continuous to describe a longer action in the past that was interrupted by another action.

Examples:

  • I was reading a book when Ian called.
  • When the phone rang, he was getting dressed.
  • What were you doing when he came home?
  • I was watching Tv, so I didn’t hear anything.
  • They were watching TV when the bell rang.
  • I was washing my car when the accident happened!
Past Continuous tense
Past Continuous tense

Use 2 Specific time as an interruption

We can use Past Continuous to talk about actions in the past that were interrupted at specific time.

Examples:

  • Last night at 11PM, he was sleeping and I was reading a book next to him.
  • Yesterday at this time, I was flying home from my holiday in Thailand.
Past Continuous tense – Last night at 11PM, he was sleeping and I was reading a book next to him.

Use 3 Parallel Actions

We often use Past Continuous to describe event or actions that were both happening at the same time in the past.

Examples:

  • On our way home, I was driving while he was sleeping on the passenger seat.
  • Were you listening while he was talking?
  • What were you doing while I was working?
Past Continuous tense

Use 4 Do describe atmosphere

We often use Past Continuous to describe atmosphere at a particular time in the past.

Example:

  • When I was walking home from work, it was raining and people were walking fast. Everybody was getting wet.

Use 5 Irritation with “Always” and “Constantly”

We often use the past continuous with “always” and “constantly” to talk about something irritating or shocking that repeatedly happened in the past.

Examples:

  • He was always driving so fast.
  • He was constantly talking. He annoyed everyone.
  • I didn’t like her because she was always complaining.

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