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Grammar

The use & example of Past Continuous Tense

Level: B1
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AFFIRMATIVE
 SPELLING RULES
 QUESTIONS & NEGATIVE FORMS

AFFIRMATIVE

Past Continuous Tense is formed correspondingly to the Present Continuous Tense, i.e., through forming an auxiliary verb “to be” that has been conjugated and the main verb with the -ing ending.

Since Past Continuous is the past tense, we use the past forms of the verb to be: was and were.

As a reminder:

singular plural
I was We were
You were You were
She/ He/ It was They were

I was watching TV yesterday night.
It was a beautiful day – the sun was shining and birds were singing.


 SPELLING RULES

For some verbs, adding the -ing suffix requires additional spelling changes.
The same rules apply here as for the Present Continuous tense.

We were travelling around Africa when I lost my luggage.
She was having dinner when I came.


 QUESTIONS & NEGATIVE FORMS

We form Past Continuous questions through the inversion:

She was living in Paris.
Was she living in Paris?

They were doing their homework at 8 p.m.
What were they doing at 8 p.m.?

We form negative sentences by adding word not to the conjugated past tense verb to be:

was / were + not + verb + -ing
was + not = wasn’t
were- not = weren’t

We weren’t doing anything important when you phoned.
It wasn’t raining when I arrived.

Usage

Past Continuous is used to:

we use  Past Continuous example
when we show ongoing action in the past Six minutes later I was still waiting for the tram.
when we describe an action scene – background for a story or event I was walking across the meadow. The sun was shining, birds were singing – it was a lovely day. Suddenly I saw a …
to identify change, progress and development She was growing so fast that whenever I bought her some new clothes, they were always too small.

Past Continuous and Simple Past frequently appear in one sentence.
It is then used to express an ongoing action, as opposed to Simple Past which expresses a “completed action”:

When I arrived she was cooking dinner.

Verbs referring to emotions, feelings and sensory impressions usually do not occur in the Past Continuous Tense. To express these types of states we use Simple Past or could (not) + verb

Time expressions

The most common time expressions in Past Continuous are past dates or specific events:

On May 4th he was celebrating his birthday.
He was enjoying himself when the terrible news came.
Below we mentioned the following expressions:

at that moment
that week/ month…
in 1998/ on Tuesday
last month/ year…
 then
at 7 o’clock…

 

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