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The Past Continuous Tense

1. What is the past continuous tense

The past continuous tense talks about:

  • an action happening in the past when another action happens
  • an action happening at a particular time in the past
  • two actions happening at the same time in the past

2. How to make the past continuous

To make the past continuous, use:

  • was …ing

An action happening in the past when another action happens

To describe an action happening in the past when another action happens, use the structure:

  • was …ing + when + past tense
was …ingwhenpast tensefull sentence
The bus was drivingwhenit crashedThe bus was driving through heavy snow when it crashed.
I was sleepingwhenhe woke upI was still sleeping when he woke up.
I was workingI didn’t get your callSorry I didn’t get your call: I was working.

An action happening at a particular time in the past

To describe an action happening at a particular time in the past, use the structure:

  • was …ing + past time
was …ingpast timefull sentence
I was playingat 4 o’clockI was playing football at 4 o’clock yesterday.
My sister and her friends were talkingall nightI’m sleepy; my sister and her friends were talking all night.
We were watchinglast night“Where were you last night?”
“We were watching a movie at the cinema.”

Two actions happening at the same time in the past

To describe two actions happening at the same time in the past, use the structure:

  • was …ing + while + was …ing
was …ingwhilewas …ingFull sentence
They were shoppingwhilewe were eatingThey were shopping while we were eating lunch.
They were all laughingwhileshe was playingThey were all laughing while she was playing. It made me want to cry.
I was cookingwhilethey were lyingI was cooking dinner; meanwhile they were lying on the sofa, watching TV.

3. Examples of the past continuous

I was thinking of you when you called.The crowd were whistling while he was taking the penalty.
The girls were watching a DVD when their parents came home.The dog was sleeping while the burglars were robbing the house.
The players were still training at 9pm last night.UN peacekeepers were patrolling the area when the bomb went off.
The fire was burning strongly by the time the sun set.The agent was talking all through the interview.

4. Exercises

1. Make 3 sentences using the past continuous and past tense together (example: she was chatting to a guy when her boyfriend walked in)

2. What were you doing yesterday at:
(i) noon?
(ii) 4pm?
(iii) 8pm?

3. Turn these present continuous sentences into past continuous:
(i) I am playing the computer, and she is listening to a new CD.
(ii) They are singing while we are playing.
(iii) The phone is ringing, but I am busy washing the cat.

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