English Tenses - Past Continuous

What is the Past Continuous and why do we use it?

The Past Continuous is used to talk about actions that are in progress at a "particular point" in the past. The "particular point" in the past is usually a Past Simple phrase or a time. 

A typical word order is:

Subject + was / were + ing form + Object + time

For example:

  • I was watching TV at 7pm last night.
  • There were eating pizza at 5am.

To talk about the past, we only need Past Simple. So why do we use Past Continuous?

We use Past Continuous to give the background details of a story. So we often use Past Continuous together with Past Simple. In other words, Past Simple gives the important details, and Past Continuous gives extra information. "When" and "While" are often used to connect the two clauses.

For example:

  • It was raining when I crossed the road.
  • She was cooking dinner when the phone rang.
  • The parents ate dinner while the kids were playing computer games.

Common sentence structure is:

Past Simple Clause + While + Past Continuous Clause


Past Continuous Clause + When + Past Simple Clause

Negative Past Continuous sentences

In a negative Past Continuous sentence, we change was / were to wasn't / weren't.

A common word order is:

Subject + wasn't / weren't + ing form + object + time / past simple clause

For example:

  • She wasn't sleeping at 11pm last night.
  • It wasn't raining when they came onto the football pitch.

Questions in the Past Continuous

When asking questions in the Past Continuous, you need to swap around the subject and was / were. You can also use question words such as where, when, why, and how.

So, a common word order is:

Question word + Was / Were + Subject + ing form + object + time / past simple clause

For example:

  • What were you doing at 8pm last night?
  • Why were you dancing when I came into the room?
  • Was it raining when they went outside?

So, can you remember? Why do we use the Past Continuous?