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Past continuous

( Free Online English Grammar Lessons )

Read time : 2 minutes

Past Continuous Form : ( Was / were + verb -ing )

In English we use the past continuous to talk about an action taking place during a period of time in the past. We usually use it with past simple.

The table below shows the different forms of past continuous :

Example verb : studyI / He / She / ItYou / We / They
Positive... was studying.... were studying.
Negative... wasn't studying.... weren't studying. 
QuestionsWas ... studying?

Were ... studying?

Short answers

Yes, ... was. /

No, ... wasn't.

Yes, ... were. /

No, ... weren't.

In English we use the past continuous to show that a longer action in the past was interrupted. The interruption is usually a shorter action in the past simple. This can be a real interruption or just an interruption in time.

Past Continuous Examples Sentences :

Positive Examples of Past Continuous :

  • I was cooking dinner when she phoned.
  • While we were cycling in the park, it started to rain.
  • While Alex was exercising, someone stole his bike.

Negative Examples of Past Continuous :

  • You were not listening to the teacher when she gave us our homework.
  • He wasn't paying attention when the fire alarm went off.
  • We weren't watching the film during the scary parts. 

Question Examples of Past Continuous :

  • What were you doing when you had the car accident?
  • What were you doing when the police turned up?
  • Where was he living when the attack happened in London?

In English we can also use a specific time as an interruption.

Examples Sentences :

  • Last night at 6 PM, I was travelling home.
  • At midnight, I was still studying for my exam.
  • Yesterday at this time, I was sitting on a beach in Australia.

When you use the past continuous with two actions in the same sentence, it means that both actions were happening at the same time. The actions are parallel. 

Examples Sentences :

  • I was swimming while he was sunbathing.
  • While Emily was cooking, Brian was doing his homework.
  • Were you listening when I was speaking to you?
  • They were sitting by the pool, sipping cocktails, and talking about life.


Be going to
Be going to passive
Be used to / Get used to
Comparative
Defining relative clause
Echo tag
Expression
First conditional
Future
Future continuous
Future perfect continuous
Future perfect passive
Future perfect simple
Future simple passive
Greeting
Have/Get something done
Imperative
Implied conditional
Indirect question
Infinitive of purpose
Interjection
Mixed conditional
Modal
Modal passive
Non-defining relative clause
Other
Past continuous
Past continuous passive
Past perfect continuous
Past perfect passive
Past perfect simple
Past simple
Past simple passive
Polite request / offer / suggestion
Present continuous
Present continuous passive
Present perfect continuous
Present perfect passive
Present perfect simple
Present simple
Present simple passive
Question tag
Reduced relative clause
Reported speech imperative
Reported speech question
Reported speech request
Reported speech statement
Second conditional
Short answer
Superlative
Third conditional
Used to / would (past habit)
Was/were going to
Was/were supposed to
Wish
Would rather
Zero conditional