Past Continuous Tense


The Past Continuous tense, also known as past progressive tense, indicates a continuing action, something that was happening, going on, at certain point in the past. The action can be interrupted by another action or can happen at the same time. This tense is generally occurs only with dynamic verb, not the static one.

The Patterns

The Past Continuous tense is formed with the helping verb of the past be (was, were) and the present participle (verb with an –ing ending).

See the following patterns carefully!


Subject + past be (was, were) + V-ing (the present participle)


Subject + past be (was, were) +not + V-ing (the present participle)


past be (was, were) + Subject + V-ing (the present participle)

The proper conjugation of the past be with the subject pronoun

  1. Was —————–>> I, He, She, It or the singular or the uncountable noun
  2. Were —————>> You, We, They or the plural noun

Time Signals

The time signals used with The Past Continuous tense among others are when, while and as long as.

The Uses

The Past Continuous tense is used to express:

1. action going on (in progress) at a certain time in the past;


I was watching Dora Emon in the morning yesterday.
They were browsing on the internet at 8 last night.
Yesterday at this time, I was chatting with him.

2. actions taking place at the same time in the past;


I was doing my homework and Shinta was knitting her handkerchief.
We were having dinner and discussing our business plan.
Thomas wasn’t talking, and I wasn’t talking either.

3. action in the past that is interrupted by another action;

The Past Continuous is also used to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted by another action. The interruption is usually a shorter action in the Simple Past. We usually use “when” to link these two actions.


  • I was cooking for dinner when she called.
  • When the phone rang, she was listening to her favorite song.
  • What were you doing when the explosion occurred?
  • I was listening to my MP3 player, so I didn’t hear blast.
  • While Tony was gardening yesterday morning, a stranger sneaked into his house.
  • While I was writing an article about education, the electricity suddenly went off.

Note: In the Simple Past, a specific time is used to show when an action began or finished. In the Past Continuous, a specific time only interrupts the action.

4. timid / polite questions;

You may use the Past Continuous to ask a polite question.

  • I was wondering if you could turn off the radio.
  • I was thinking you might help me with this math problem.

Though the sentences are in Past Continuous form, they actually refer to the present time. Their meaning is the same as the “could you” sentences, but they are more polite.

5. irritation over something or somebody (in the past);

Expressing your irritation or anger over something or somebody in the past is also possible with the Past Continuous. The irritation is usually expressed with words such as “always” or “constantly” which is put between “be” and “the present participle. This indicates that something irritating or shocking often happened in the past. Actually it is very similar to the expression of “used to” but with negative sense.


  • She was always talking too much.
  • He was constantly boasting.
  • They were always complaining.
  • He was always coming late for meeting!

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Filed under: English Course (Grammar)

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