The past progressive describes an action that was
in progress at a specific time in the past. It can be used:
To describe an action that started in the past and
was interrupted by another action:
He was writing an e-mail when the phone rang.
When the phone rang, he was writing an e-mail.
While he was writing an e-mail, the phone rang
To describe two actions that were in progress at
the same time in the past:
I was preparing dinner while Melanie was working upstairs.
While Melanie was working upstairs, I was preparing
Note: The word order in the sentence can be switched around as
in the examples above, however, it is important to remember
that we use the time expression while before the past
progressive and the word when before the past simple part of
the sentence. Use only one of these time expressions in each
The past progressive is formed using was or were
and the ing (present participle) form of the verb.
Subject a form of be +
rest of sentence
I / He / She / It was finishing the exam when the
You / We / They were paying the bill while I was
waiting to be
Negatives in the Past Progressive
The negative in the past progressive tense is
created using was not or were not + the ing
(present participle) form of the verb.
Note: In general, use these contractions in the
negative: wasn’t, weren’t. Save the long forms for
when you want to create emphasis.
Subject a form of be +
rest of sentence
I /He / She / It wasn’t crying when you came
You / We / They weren’t hiking there when the
I wasn’t sleeping when you came home last night.
When Ms. Foster came in, the girls weren’t studying.
Sam wasn’t lying when he said he loved you.
Yes/No Questions in the Past
To ask a question that will be answered
with either a yes or no, start with Was or
Were, (Wasn’t or Weren’t for a negative
question) then choose your subject (the
person or thing doing the action),
followed by the ing (present participle)
form of the verb and then the rest of your
A form of Be subject verbing rest of sentence
Was I walking too fast
Was he / she / it shouting while you were
trying to sleep
Were you / we / they waiting for her when the
Was I talking to you?
Were you writing the report when the electricity went off?
When you came home, was he singing in the shower?
Wasn’t Tom sitting in the cafe when you drove past?
Wh-Questions in the Past
Wh- questions are questions that require more
information in their answers. Typical wh- words
are what, where, when, which, why, who, and how.
To create a wh-question, start with the Wh-word,
then was or were (wasn’t or weren’t for a negative
question), then the subject (a person or thing that
does the action), followed by the ing (participle)
form of the verb and only then add the rest of the
Wh Word a form of
subject verbing rest of
Who was I talking to
What was he / she /
When were you / we /
planning on telling
Where were you standing when the trouble started?
Who was I talking to? I can’t remember.
Why wasn’t she waiting at the meeting point?
Tag Questions in the Past
Tag questions are those short questions that are tagged
onto the end of a sentence. They are used just to make
sure the person you’re talking to understood what you
meant or to emphasize what you said.
They’re formed by using a positive sentence in the past
progressive and adding wasn’t or weren’t and a
pronoun (I, you, we, they, he, she, it) and a question
I was snoring last night, wasn’t I?
They were all rushing for the exit, weren’t they?
When Mr. Thomas called, David was solving
crossword puzzles, wasn’t he?
You may also add a positive tag when you’re using a
Jennifer wasn’t trying very hard, was she?
The trains weren’t running on schedule
yesterday, were they?
As a rule: When the sentence is positive, the tag is
When the sentence is negative, the tag is positive.
Exercises – Past Progressive
Fill in the correct form of the verb in Past Progressive
(Continuous) or Past Simple as in the examples.
1. Tom was wrapping the gift when I walked in the
room. (wrap / walk)
2. Did he comfort her while she was crying? (comfort
3. What were you doing when the accident occurred?
(do / occur)
1. What _______the manager ________ at 7:00 pm
2. Tina and Shelly ____________ to the hotel when it
_________ to rain. (walk/start)
3. When Donny _________ the room, everyone
4. I _________ in the sales department when I first
_________ Sofie. (work/meet)
5. My brother ______the computer while I ______ for
my trip. (use/pack)
6. ______ you ______ attention when the teacher
______ your name? (pay/call)
7. We ______ TV when the lighting ________. (watch/
8. She _______ about me behind my back, wasn’t she?
9. ______ the client really ______out while Troy ______
the proposal? (walk / present)
10. This morning, while I ________ breakfast, someone
_______ on the door. (eat /knock)
2. were walking/started
3. entered/was talking
4. was working/met
5. was using/was packing
7. were watching/struck
8. was whispering
9. Did/walk/was presenting
10. was eating/knocked
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