Past Continuous

Past continuous – form.

The past continuous of any verb is composed of two parts : the past tense of the verb to be (was/were), and the base of the main verb +ing.

Subject

was/were

base-ing

They

were

watching

 

Affirmative

She

was

reading

Negative

She

wasn’t

reading

Interrogative

Was

she

reading?

Interrogative negative

Wasn’t

she

reading?

Example: to play, past continuous

Affirmative

Negative

Interrogative

I was playing

I was not playing

Was I playing?

You were playing

You were not playing

Were you playing?

He, she, it was playing

She wasn’t playing

Was she playing?

We were playing

We weren’t playing

Were we playing?

You were playing

You weren’t playing

Were you playing?

They were playing

They weren’t playing

Were they playing?

Past continuous, function

The past continuous describes actions or events in a time before now, which began in the past and was still going on at the time of speaking. In other words, it expresses an unfinished or incomplete action in the past.

It is used:

  • often, to describe the background in a story written in the past tense, e.g. “The sun was shining and the birds were singing as the elephant came out of the jungle. The other animals were relaxing in the shade of the trees, but the elephant moved very quickly. She waslooking for her baby, and she didn’t notice the hunter who was watching her through his binoculars. When the shot rang out, she was running towards the river…”
  • to describe an unfinished action that was interrupted by another event or action: “I was having a beautiful dream when the alarm clock rang.”
  • to express a change of mind: e.g. “I was going to spend the day at the beach but I’ve decided to go on an excursion instead.”
  • with ‘wonder’, to make a very polite request: e.g. “I was wondering if you could baby-sit for me tonight.”

More examples

  • They were waiting for the bus when the accident happened.
  • Caroline was skiing when she broke her leg.
  • When we arrived he was having a bath.
  • When the fire started I was watching television.

Exceptions in Spelling

Exceptions in spelling when adding ing

Example

final e is dropped   (but: ee is not changed) come – coming
(but: agree – agreeing)
after a short,   stressed vowel, the final consonant is doubled sit   – sitting
l as final consonant after a vowel is doubled (in   British English) travel   – travelling
final   ie   becomes y lie   – lying

Use of Past Progressive

  • puts emphasis on the course of an action in the past

Example: He was playing football.

  • two actions happening at the same time (in the past)

Example: While she was preparing dinner, he was washing the dishes.

  • action going on at a certain time in the past

Example: When I was having breakfast, the phone suddenly rang.

Signal Words of Past Progressive

  • when, while, as long as
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