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What is Past Continuous Tense

Past continuous tense, also known as past progressive tense, is used to talk about an uncompleted or on-going activity in the past. It is used for actions that have been happening over a period of time in the past. The past continuous tense is mainly used to set the scene for another action.

Formation of the Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous verb has two parts: the past tense of the verb be and the present participle of the main verb.

Was/Were + Present Participle

Let us take the verb eat as an example, and see how it is conjugated.




Interrogative Negative

I was eating.


I wasn’t eating.


Was I eating?

Wasn’t I eating?

You were eating.


You weren’t eating.


Were you eating?

Weren’t you eating?

He/she was eating.


He/she wasn’t eating.


Was he/she eating?

Wasn’t he/she eating?

We were eating.


We weren’t eating.


Were we eating?

Weren’t we eating?

They were eating.


They weren’t eating.


Were they eating?

Weren’t they eating?


He was reading a book.

They were laughing.

What were you doing last night?

Yesterday at pm, I was studying.

Yesterday at 1 pm, I was studying.

Usage of the Past Continuous Tense

Past Continuous Tense, as mentioned above, is mainly used to set the scene for another action. It can be used before and after another action.

I was waiting for a bus when I saw his car.

He was making dinner when I arrived home.

It can be also used to indicate that an action has been happening for a long period of time.

Her head was aching.

Everybody was shouting, nobody noticed the headmaster.

Past continuous can be also used to indicate a repeated action.

The two lovers were meeting secretly.

She was practicing the poem every day.

They were always quarreling.

Past Continuous tense is used with verbs that indicate growth or change as well.

She was growing fast.

The town was growing rapidly.

Examples of Past Continuous Tense

He phoned while I was getting ready to go out.

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

Were you listening to me when I explained the lesson?

She was wearing a long white dress and a red hat.

While he was walking to school, he was a cute little kitty on the road.

She was watching TV when the accident happened.

No one knew that they were meeting secretly.

My car wasn’t working, so I walked to school.

She hurt her neck while she was working in the garden.

I saw her yesterday; she was eating ice-cream at the ice-cream parlor.

The children were growing tall.

Past Continuous Tense – Summary

  • Past Continuous Tense is used to describe an on-going action in the past.
  • It can be used to set the scene for another action.
  • It can be used to indicate that an action continued for some time or that an action kept repeating.
  • The past continuous is formed by adding the past tense of the be verb (was/were) to the -ing form of the main verb.