What Is Past Continuous Tense?
The past continuous (also known as the past progressive) is a grammatical tense used in English that describes actions or events that were happening continuously in the past for a certain duration of time.
Past Continuous: Structure
The past continuous is made from the past tense of the verb 'be' and the -ing form of a verb:
Look at some examples:
Past Continuous: Negation
For negative sentences, we put 'not' after the auxiliary verb 'to be.'
He was reading. → He was
They were sleeping. → They were
You can contract the conjugated forms of 'be' (was, were) in the negative form.
Here, you can see the process of negations and contraction.
Past Continuous: Questions
We were playing football. →
For 'wh- questions,' we just put the question word at the beginning, followed by 'was' or 'were' before the subject to make a 'wh- question'.
We were meeting them. →
If you want to learn more about spelling rules of adding -ing to the base form of verbs, see here.
Past Continuous: Uses
When someone uses the past continuous, they are thinking about:
- Ongoing Actions in the Past
- Frequent Actions in the Past
- Story-telling and Narration
- Polite Requests
Ongoing Actions in the Past
We use the past continuous tense to talk about an action that was ongoing in the past. As you can guess from the name, this tense talks about a past action. the important thing to know is that the action we are talking about was ongoing back then. Check out these examples:
Here, we are referring to an action that was in process in the past.
We use the past continuous tense to talk about an action that was interrupted by another event or action. Remember, in this case, the action described by the past continuous tense had already started before the interruption occurred. For example:
We use the past continuous tense to talk about an action that happened before and after a specific time. Look at the examples:
It was eight o'clock. I
We use the past continuous tense to talk about two actions that were happening at the same time in the past. It means that both actions were taking place at the moment, and they were both in progress. Here are the examples:
We use the past continuous tense to talk about something which was changing, growing, or developing. This This indicates a gradual progression or advancement over time. Check out these examples:
Frequent Actions in the Past
We use the past continuous tense to talk about an action that happened repeatedly in the past. To talk about repeated actions in the past you use the past continuous tense. In this case, you can also use some adverbs or adverb phrases to emphasize the repetition of actions. For example:
Here, we are referring to a routine that tended to repeat itself.
We use the past continuous tense with 'always', 'forever' and 'constantly' to talk about something which happened repeatedly in the past, emphasizing a continuing series of repeated actions. For example:
Story-telling and Narration
We use the past continuous tense at the beginning of a story to describe the background or ongoing actions in a story written in the past tense. Remember it is common to use the simple past tense to narrate a story but to express the background we use the past continuous tense. Here are some examples:
The other day I
Here, we are narrating a past situation that we were in.
We use the past continuous tense with the main verbs 'wonder,' 'think,' or 'hope' to make a polite request. For example:
Excuse me, I
When we say "I was wondering," we are expressing that we had a question or request in our mind at some point in the past and we are now expressing it politely.
Common Time Expressions
- All morning/afternoon/night...
- Throughout the morning/afternoon/night...
The Second Conditional
We can also use the past continuous tense to refer to the present or future in hypothetical situations. This means that we are not talking about something that is probable to happen. It is actually something that would happen if something else was in progress. For example:
Correct Usage of "to be" in the Second Conditional
Remember to use "were" instead of "was" for all subjects, when using the Second Conditional to talk about hypothetical situations. Check out these examples:
was a millionaire, I would travel the world.
We can also use the past continuous tense after words like 'wish.' This structure is used to indicate that there is not a suitable situation for you, but you wish it was different. For example:
I'm tired of this small house. I wish we
When Not to Use Past Continuous Tense
We do not normally use the continuous tense with stative verbs (also known as non-continuous verbs). These verbs are normally used in the simple form because they refer to states, rather than actions or progress. Some examples of these verbs are 'to have', 'to know', 'to want', 'to need' and 'to cost'. Look at the examples:
When I came home from the gym, I really needed (Not
was needing) food!
Past continuous tense is used in English to talk about progressive past actions.