The Past Continuous

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Welcome to your Past Continuous lesson! In this topic we talk about:

When do we use the Past Continuous?

More examples.

Past Simple or Past Continuous?

Using the Past Simple and the Past Continuous together.

State verbs.

Take the quizzes when you’re ready! If you’re having problems, use the comment box to contact our English Teachers.


When do we use the Past Continuous?

Yesterday, Marie ate salad for lunch. She started at 12.30, and finished at 1.30. So:

At 1pm, Marie was eating salad.

This is an example of a Past Continuous sentence.


More examples

“I was doing.” means “I was in the middle of doing at a certain time.” The action or situation had already started before this time, but had not finished:

This time last year I was living in Spain.

What were you doing at 6am?

I called your name but you weren’t listening.


Past Simple or Past Continuous?

Past Simple
(completed action)
Past Continuous
(in the middle of the action)

I drove home after the party yesterday.

I was driving home last night when my phone rang.

Stephanie watched a great tennis match last night.

Stephanie was watching a tennis match when I came home.


Using the Past Simple and the Past Continuous together

Sometimes we can use the Past Simple and the Past Continuous together. This is to say that one action happened in the middle of another action:

I saw my ex while I was driving home.

broke a plate while I was having dinner.

She hurt her ankle while she was running.

It was raining when I hiked up the mountain.

Compare these two sentences:

We were having cocktails when Sam arrived
(We had already started before he came)

We had cocktails when Sam arrived
(We started to have cocktails after he came)


State Verbs

Just like all the other continuous sentences, you cannot use State Verbs:

We were great friends, we knew all of each other’s secrets. 
(not “were knowing.”)

I loved the meal, but Stephanie hated it. 
(not “… was hating.”)


 Recap

  • The Past Continuous is used to say when you were in the middle of an action.
  • As with other continuous tenses, you cannot use state verbs.

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