window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || []; function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);} gtag('js', new Date()); gtag('config', 'G-KF0HPJ6WPF');
Learning Zone

The use & example of Past Continuous Tense

Level: B1
Article navigation:


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:

I wasWe were
You wereYou were
She/ He/ It wasThey were

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


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.


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.


Past Continuous is used to:

we use  Past Continuousexample
when we show ongoing action in the pastSix minutes later I was still waiting for the tram.
when we describe an action scene – background for a story or eventI 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 developmentShe 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…
at 7 o’clock…


engxam logo english exams

What is your level of English?

Take a short 5-minute test to find out your level of English and which certificate is right for you.
© 2024 engxam. All rights reserved.