Uses Of Past Continuous Tense In English

Past Continuous in English is mainly used to show that one or more actions were happening in the past.

We use the Past Continuous mainly to say about something that was happening in the past. We’ll see that the actions can be happening at the same time or it can be interrupted by something. / We use the Continuous Past mainly to talk about something that was happening in the past. We will see that it may be actions that occurred at the same time or actions that were interrupted by something.

The form of the Past Continuous: / The form of the Past Past:

Subject + Past of the verb to be (was / were) + present participle (base + ing)
Subject + Past verb “to be” + Present participle

Examples: / Examples:

  • You were reading. / You were reading.
    Subject: You
    Past of the verb to be: were
    Present participle: 
    reading
  • I was waiting . / I was waiting.
  • My mother was eating.

There are at least four ways to use the Past Continuous, which are: / There are at least four ways to use the Past Continuous, which are:

→ Actions in progress at the same time in the past. / Actions in progress at the same time in the past.

→ Interrupted Action in the Past. / Actions interrupted in the past.

→ Polite Question. / Polite (more formal) questions.

→ Irritation. / Irritation.

1 – Actions in progress at the same time in the past: / Actions in progress at the same time in the past:

In sentences like these we usually use “when” and “while” to link the two sentences. Something that has to be clear is that when we use the Past Continuous with two actions in only one sentence, it’s because both actions were happening at the same time. / In sentences like these, we usually use “when” and “while” to link them together. Something that should be clear is that when we use the Continuous Past with two actions in one sentence, it is because both actions happened in the past.

Look the example above: / See the example below:

When I walked into the school, Melissa and Summer were studying again. Lana was reading her new book with her usual interest. Sam and Alex were talking with each other and Ingrid was telling the rest of the students one of her strangers habits of live. The outside the school was already smelling of lunch food and I just felt that it was a great time to eat. / When I entered school, Melissa and Summer were studying again. Lana was reading her new book with her usual interest. Sam and Alex were talking and Ingrid was telling the rest of the students one of their strange life habits. Outside the school I was already smelling lunch food and I felt it was a great time to eat.

The words in blue indicates the past in the sentences: / The words in blue indicate the past in the sentences:

I walked = I walked

were studying = were studying

was reading = was reading

were talking = were talking

as telling = was saying

It was already = was already

felt = feeling

it was = was

2 – Interrupted Action in the Past / Actions interrupted in the past

In this case we use the Past Continuous to show that a longer action in the past was interrupted. This interruption occurs by another action in the past, made with expressions in the past simple. / In this case, we use the Continuous Past to show that a long action in the past has been interrupted. This interruption occurs by another action in the past, which action must be in the Simple Past.

Look the examples above: / See the examples below:

was reading when my brother called me .
I was reading when my brother called me.

He was running when I interrupted his.
He was running when I interrupted him.

While I was walking in the park, it started raining .
While I was walking in the park, it started to rain.

Her mother was waiting for her when she got off the airplane .
Her mother was waiting when she got off the plane.

3 – Polite question

When we want or need to ask something in a very polite way, we use the Past Continuous. / When we want or need to ask something in a very polite way, we use the Continuous Past.

Look the examples above: / See the examples below:

I was wondering if you could lend me some money.
I wonder if you could lend me some money.

Were you looking for someone?
Were you looking for someone?

I was wondering if you could open the door.
I wonder if you could open the door.

I was wondering if you could help me with this problem
I wonder if you could help me with this problem.

4 – Irritation or repetition. / Irritation or repetition.

When we use the Past Continuous with “always” this show us that something isn’t right, something is repeating or irritating. / When we use the Continuous Past with “always”, it shows us that something is not right, that something is repeating or irritating.

  • He was always lying all the time. No wonder he was accepted as a truly person. / He was always lying all the time. There is no chance of accepting you as a real person.
  • He was always boasting about his career, his relationship, his financial situation. It irritated us very much. / He was sporting his career, his relationship, his financial situation. It irritated us a lot.
  • I can’t believe that! They were always coming late for lunch and dinner! / I don’t believe it! They were always late for lunch and dinner.
  • She was always leaving the tap running in her home. / He was always leaving the tap running at her house.

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