Past Progressive Tense
We use the past continuous to say some one was
in the middle of doing something at a certain time.
The action or situation had already started before
Yesterday Dave and Jim played tennis.
They began at 10:00 and finished at 11:00
•What were they doing at 10:30?
(They were playing tennis at 10:30)
They were playing means that they
were in the middle of playing tennis.
They had started playing, but they
The past continuous does not tell us whether an
action was finished or not. Perhaps it was
finished or perhaps not
Dan was cooking Dinner (Past Continuous)
He was in the middle of
cooking dinner and we
don’t know whether he
Past Progressive Tense
Past Progressive tense
I n t e r r o g a t i v e N e g a t i v e
USE of Interrupted Action in the
Use the Past Continuous to indicate that a
longer action in the past was interrupted. The
interruption is usually a shorter action in the
I was watching TV when she called.
When the phone rang, she was writing a letter.
What were you doing when the earthquake started?
I was listening to my iPod, so I didn't hear the fire alarm.
Sammy was waiting for us when we got off the plane.
While I was writing the email, the computer suddenly
A: What were you doing when you broke your leg?
B: I was snowboarding.
We often use the past continuous (I was doing) and the simple
past (I did) together to say that some thing happened in the
middle of some thing else:
Dan burned his hand while he was cooking
I saw Jim in the park. He was sitting on the
It was raining when I got up.
In the Simple Past, a specific time is used to show
when an action began or finished. In the Past
Progressive, a specific time only interrupts the
1. Last night at 6 PM, I ate dinner.
I started eating at 6 PM.
2. Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
I started earlier; and at 6 PM, I was in the process of eating
The past simple and the past continuous do not
mean exactly the same. Compare:
•When Mary arrived, we were
This means that we already started
dinner before Mary arrived.
•When Mary arrived, we had
This means that Mary arrived first
and then we had dinner.
USE of Parallel Actions
When you use the Past Continuous with two
actions in the same sentence, it expresses
the idea that both actions were happening at
the same time. The actions are parallel.
1. I was studying while he was making dinner.
2. While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching
3. Were you listening while he was talking?
4. What were you doing while you were waiting?
5. Thomas wasn't working, and I wasn't working
6. They were eating dinner, discussing their plans, and
having a good time.
USE of Atmosphere
In English, we often use a series of parallel
actions to describe the atmosphere at a
particular time in the past.
When I walked into the office, several people were typing,
some were talking on the phones, the boss was yelling
directions, and customers were waiting to be helped. One
customer was yelling at a secretary and waving his
hands. Others were complaining to each other about the
USE of Repetition and Irritation with
The Past Continuous with words such as
"always" or "constantly" expresses the idea
that something irritating or shocking often
happened in the past. The concept is very
similar to the expression "used to" but with
negative emotion. Remember to put the
words "always" or "constantly" between
"be" and "verb + ing."
She was always coming to class late.
He was constantly talking. He annoyed
I didn't like them because they were always
While vs. When
Clauses are groups of words which have meaning, but
are often not complete sentences. Some clauses begin
with the word "when" such as "when she called" or "when
it bit me." Other clauses begin with "while" such as "while
she was sleeping" and "while he was surfing." When you
talk about things in the past, "when" is most often
followed by the verb tense Simple Past, whereas "while"
is usually followed by Past Continuous. "While"
expresses the idea of "during that time."
I was studying when she called.
While I was studying, she called.
Study the examples below.
They have similar meanings, but
they emphasize different parts of
Put the verbs into the correct form
Past Progressive or Past simple.
1. George _________ (fall) of the ladder while he ________ (paint)
2. Last night I _________ (read) in bed when suddenly I
__________ (hear) a scream.
3. _________ (you/watch) TV? when I called you.
4. Ann ___________ (wait) for me when I ___________ (arrive)
5. I __________ (not/drive) very fast when, the accident _________
6. I _________ (break) a plate last night, I ___________ (wash) the
dishes when it (slip)_________ out of my hand.
7. We _________ (not/go) out because it ____________ (rain)
8. What ________ (you/do) at this time yesterday?
9. I __________ (see) Carol at the party. She ___________ (wear)
a new dress.
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