Past Continuous/Progressive Tense in English

The Simple Past Tense in EnglishWhen we use easy Past Continuous. How it combines with time expressions and other past actions.

Past Continuous/Progressive is a past tense for then current activity. Its form is a past be + present participle. Negative Past Continuous has was not / wasn’t, were not / weren’t before participle.

We use Past Continuous to say somebody was in the middle of doing something at a certain time. The action/situation had already started before this time but hadn’t finished.

It was raining all night.

was/were + -ing



was sb doing sth sb was doing sth sb wasn’t doing sth

Past Continuous Spelling

To take –ing

Verbs in a consonant + -e drop it (except in being)

starve – starving

carve – carving

Verbs in a stressed vowel + a consonant double the last consonant

rub – rubbing

stop – stopping

Verbs in -ie change it to –y-

lie – lying

die – dying

Verbs in a vowel + -l double it in British English

travel – travelling

cancel – cancelling

Past Continuous Meanings

Past actions in progress (with stated timing)

At 7 o’clock yesterday evening they were having dinner.

In May of last year she was studying hard for her final exams.

At 6 o’clock this morning I was walking along the beach.

What were you doing at 10 o’clock last night?

Temporary situations (around other past interruptions)

He was walking down the street when he ran into an old friend.

They were watching a film when we arrived.

She was studying law when the war started.

I waved to her but she wasn’t looking.

I thought you were never coming.

Simultaneous processes

She was talking on her mobile phone while she was driving to work.

While I was driving along this morning, I was thinking about what you’d said.

He was cooking the dinner while she was talking to him.

Scene settings (story introductions/backgrounds)

One beautiful autumn afternoon, Ben was strolling down a quiet country lane. The birds were singing and the leaves were rustling in the breeze.

The wind was blowing and the rain was beating down. John Snell was standing at the bus stop shivering. He was trying to imagine being at home sitting by a warm fire.

Time Reference


while, when, as

I was walking home when I met Dave.

Ann was watching TV when the phone rang.

Tom burnt his hand when he was cooking the dinner.


all morning/evening/day/yesterday/night/week

I was watching TV all evening.

Were you working all weekend?

This time last year I was living in Brazil.