Past Continuous Tense

The tenses simply show the time of an action.

Past Continuous Tense indicates an action which started in the past and continued in a certain time period. The point to be taken into consideration is that the action started in the past and the continuity of the action was also in the past, so it does not continue at this moment. 

Common tense markers:

When / While / As / All night yesterday / This time yesterday / Yesterday evening / Yesterday / Last night, etc.

The verb ‘to be ( am, is, are )’ has two forms in the past; was and were.

am, iswas

was, were


POSITIVE FORM (+) :  Subject + BE ( was / were ) + Verb-ING

NEGATIVE FORM (-) : Subject + BE ( was / were ) + NOT + Verb-ING

QUESTION FORM (?) : BE ( was / were ) + Subject + Verb-ING

NEGATIVE QUESTION FORM (?): BE ( was / were ) + NOT + Subject + Verb-ING


YES  + Subject + BE ( was / were ) 

NO + Subject + BE ( was / were ) + NOT

He was runningHe was not (wasn’t) runningWas he runningWas not ( Wasn’t ) he running
She was runningShe was not (wasn’t) runningWas she runningWas not ( Wasn’t ) she running
It was runningIt was not (wasn’t) runningWas it runningWas not ( Wasn’t ) it running
I was runningI was not (wasn’t) runningWas I runningWas not ( Wasn’t ) I running
You were runningYou were not (weren’t) runningWere you runningWere not ( Weren’t ) you running
We were runningWe were not (weren’t) runningWere we runningWere not ( Weren’t ) we running
They were runningThey were not (weren’t) runningWere they runningWere not ( Weren’t ) they running

Short answers with past continuous:

Yes, he was.No, he was not (wasn’t).
Yes, she was.No, she was not (wasn’t).
Yes, it was.No, it was not (wasn’t).
Yes, I was.No, I was not (wasn’t).
Yes, you were.No, you were not (weren’t).
Yes, we were.No, we were not (weren’t).
Yes, they were.No, they were not (weren’t).



  • Were you watching television last night? 
  • They were studying math yesterday.
  • I was washing the dishes when the phone rang.
  • As she was reading the book, Alice came.
  • The students were drawing beautiful pictures when the teacher entered the classroom.
  • It was raining yesterday evening.
  • I was learning German last year.
  • I was crying while he was laughing.
  • Was Steven working when I called him?
  • Were they discussing last week? – Yes, they were. / No, they weren’t.


We also use a question word (Who, What, Why etc.) in past continuous tense.

Question Words (who, what, why, etc.) + BE (was/were)+ subject + Ving


  • Where were they going to?
  • How was she singing?
  • Why were you crying?
  • What was he doing?


1. Past Continuous Tense indicates an action began before another action in the past and probably continued after it. ( Interrupted actions in the past )

( The point emphasized is on the activity at the time of the interruption. That is, no information is given about the process before the interruption. It emphasizes what happened when the interruption occured.)


  • Just as she was getting into the house, she heard a loud voice.
  • While we were chatting with Alice, the door was knocked.
  • When I arrived, Lisa was reading newspaper.
  • What were you doing when the phone rang?
  • While they were walking on the street, they saw him.
  • As Marry was living in Paris, she met with Susan.
  • She was writting the report when the boss left the office.
  • When the thief entered the house, he was traveling abroad with his wife.

2. Past Continuous Tense expresses a action began before a particular time in the past  and also continued after that time. ( Specific time as an interruption )


  • At midnight, he was still driving the car.
  • It was two o’lock. I was waiting for you.
  • Last week at 9:30 am, I was going to the airport.
  • At noon, we were eating the meal.
  • Last night at 11 o’clock, I was sleeping.


In Simple Past Tense, specific time  is  used to indicate the exact start or end time of the action.

In Past Continuous Tense,  specific time is  not used to indicate the exact start or end time of the action. The action is only interrupted at that time. It means that specific time is used as an interruption for the action.


  • David came to the office at 9 am. ( at 9 o’clock David entered the office / 9 o’clock is the time of his arrival )
  • At 9 am, David was coming to the office. ( David started earlier; and at 9 o’clock, David was in the process of coming to the office. / He continued to come at 9 am. (Ambien) )

3. Past Continuous Tense refers to two actions that were happening at the same time in the past. ( Parallel Actions )


  • She was writting the letter while we were sleeping.
  • While I was watching TV, he was studying for his exam.
  • They were drinking coffee while the children were drinking milk.
  • While we were looking to my father’s eyes, he was telling us important things.
  • My family was eating the dinner while I was working.

4. Past Continuous Tense is used for a series of parallel actions to describe the atmosphere at a particular time in the past.


  • When I came to the school, the school bell was ringing, many students were running towards the garden, teachers were going out from classrooms, the manager was looking at the students, some students were complaining about each other.

5. Past Continuous Tense is used to describe plans or arrangements in the past that was definite. 


  • I was upset because I was leaving this place that morning.
  • We had to be very careful because we were talking about very important issues that evening.

6. Past Continuous Tense is also used to complain by using words such as “constantly”, “always” in describing annoying events. ( Something was happening again and again )


  • Brett was complaining too much.
  • My daughter was always crying when she was a baby.
  • The man was always drinking and beating his chidren.
  • My sister was constantly using my pens.

One Response

  1. Jc June 8, 2017