Past Simple vs. Past Continuous

What Are Their Main Differences?

The main difference between past simple tense and past continuous tense lies within what they indicate. Past simple tends to show action that happened at a definite time, while, past continuous shows a habitual action in the past.

Uses and Comparison

1. Habitual Actions

As mentioned earlier, 'past simple tense' shows what happened at a definite time in the past. Meanwhile, 'past continuous tense,' also known as 'past progressive,' aims to show a habitual action in the past.

I studied at 9 p.m.

Here, the speaker was studying at a definite time which is 9 p.m.

I was studying at 9 p.m.

Here, the speaker tries to say what they were doing at the particular time.

I helped out of the Well.

Here, we are referring to a past event that has been done way before.

I was helping a guy out of a Well.

Here, we are referring to what the subject has been doing recently.

2. Progressive Actions

The simple past is the narrative form of the past to express completed, sequential actions. The past continuous tense shows the events that occurred at a particular moment to emphasize the duration of a past action.

I went for a walk.

Here, we are referring to an action that was done by the subject.

I was walking.

Here, we are emphasizing the duration of a past action.

They tried to help him out.

Here, we are naming a past event.

They were trying to help him out.

Here, we are talking about an action that might be still happening.

3. Duration of the action

Past simple tense tends to talk about actions or events that happen in a shorter period of time. Past continuous tense tends to describe actions, situations, or events that are longer in terms of the time period.

She had tea with a neighbor.

Here, we are narrating n event which we do not know the exact time of its occurrence.

When I called, she was having tea with a neighbor.

Here, we are narrating a past event, specifying when exactly it happened.

Here, we are naming a past event.

I didn't bother her since she was reading a book.

Here, we are explaining why an action did not occur during another action.

Tip!

As mentioned above, the simple present tense indicates actions that are longer in duration. The simple past tense is used to discuss events that happened at the same time. The action that the simple past tense denotes are usually important.

I was working when 9/11 happened.

He was taking a shower when I called.

Structures

Now that we compared and looked at enough examples about the two tenses, it is time to talk about structure.

1. Past Simple Tense

We will begin this section with past simple tense and its structure rules:

1.1. Regular Verbs

When it comes to regular verbs, we can use them to create the past simple. How? Simply, add '-ed' to the base form of the verb. Have a look:

Base Form Past Form
Play Played
Arrive Arrived
Climb Climbed
Call Called

1.2. Irregular Verbs

There are verbs in English that do not follow a certain pattern and keep changing their structure. Have a look:

Base form Past form
Be Was/Were
Run Ran

2. Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous tense is made of the past tense of the verb 'be' and the '-ing' form of a verb. It sounds tricky but it is actually very simple. Have a look:

Subject Past Tense of Be -ing Form
I/He/She/It was talking
We/You/They were running