Past Continuous Tense in English Grammar
The past continuous tense is used quite often in English, so let’s understand exactly when to use it and how to use it. Are you ready? Let’s begin.
The past continuous (also called the past progressive), is a grammatical tense used in English that describes actions or events in a time before now, which began in the past and were still going on when another event occurred.
Past Continuous: Structure
The past continuous is made from the past tense of the verb 'be' and the -ing form of a verb:
|Subject||Past tense of be||-ing form|
Look at some examples:
Past Continuous: Negation
You can contract the conjugated forms of be (was, were) in the negative form.
Past Continuous: Questions
Just like we made the question with 'be' in the present simple, here we also put 'was' or 'were', before the subject to make a 'yes /no' question:
For 'wh' questions, we just put the question word at the front, then make the yes/no question.
Present Participle: Spelling Rules
We make the Present Participle by adding -ing to the verb. Normally we just add -ing. But sometimes we have to change the word a little. Here are the rules to help you know how to spell the Present Participle:
- If the verb ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant, double the last letter.
- If the verb ends in consonant + unstressed vowel + consonant, (the base verb is not stressed) do not double the last letter..
open → opening
- If the verb ends in 'ie', change the 'ie' to 'y'.
- If the verb ends in vowel + consonant + 'e', omit the 'e'.
Past Continuous: Uses
When someone uses the past continuous, they are thinking about:
Ongoing Actions in the Past
- We use past continuous to talk about an action that was ongoing in the past.
- We use past continuous to talk about an action that was interrupted by an event or an action.
- We use past continuous to talk about an action that happened before and after a specific time.
- We use past continuous to talk about two actions that both actions were happening at the same time.
Frequent Actions in the Past
- We use past continuous to talk about an action that happened again and again.
- We use present continuous tense with 'always, forever, constantly' to talk about something which happened again and again emphasizing a continuing series of repeated actions.
Changes and Growth
- We use past continuous tense to talk about something which was changing, growing or developing.
the Second Conditional
- We can also use the past continuous to refer to the present or future in hypotheses.
- We can also use the past continuous after words like 'wish'.
Story-telling and Narration
- We use present continuous tense at the beginning of a story to describe the background in a story written in the past tense.
- We use present continuous tense with 'wonder' to make a polite request.
When Not to Use Past Continuous Tense
We do not normally use the continuous tense with stative verbs (also called non-continuous verbs). These verbs are normally used in the simple form because they refer to states, rather than actions or progresses. Some examples of these verbs are to have, to know, to want, to cost.