Learn how and when to use the Past Continuous Tense (or Past Progressive) in English with useful grammar rules and examples.
You can jump to any section of this lesson:
- 1 Forming the Past Continuous Tense
- 2 How to Use the Past Continuous Tense
- 3 Time Expressions Used with the Past Continuous Tense
- 4 Past Progressive Tense | Picture
Forming the Past Continuous Tense
The Past Continuous is used to describe actions that began in the past and often continued for a short period of time after the action started.
The structure of the Past Continuous Tense is:
Was/were + V-ing (Present Participle)
At three o’clock yesterday, I was working in the garden.
How to Use the Past Continuous Tense
The Past Continuous is used:
To describe Parallel Actions
The Past Continuous is often used to denote an action that was interrupted by an event, or for two actions taking place in parallel.
While I was washing the dishes, I heard a loud noise.
While you were washing the dishes, Sue was walking the dog.To express specific Time as an Interruption
To describe what someone was doing at a particular point in time
I was working in the garden all day yesterday.
That could also be expressed using the simple past, as I worked…, which implies that the action is viewed as a unitary event (although the effective meaning is not very different).
To express interrupted Action in the Past
Often the Past Continuous is mixed with the Past Simple to show what was happening when something happened.
I was driving to work when I crashed my car.
I watched a movie while I was flying to Dubai.
To describe repetition and irritation
He was always complaining in class.
For stative verbs that do not use the progressive aspect, the simple past is used instead.
At three o’clock yesterday we were in the garden.
Time Expressions Used with the Past Continuous Tense
- At that time
- In those days
- All day
- All the evening
- For hours…