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The past continuous tense (also called the

past progressive tense)

is commonly used in English for actions which were going on (had not finished) at a particular time in the past.

This tense was formed using two components: the verb BE (in the past tense), and the -ING form of a verb

Here are the rules, using the example verb "sing":

Subject BE -ING FORM

I He She It

was was was was

singing singing singing singing singing singing singing

We They

were were

When to use the past continuous

USE 1 Interrupted Action in the Past

1.The past continuous is usually used to show that one action happened while another was still going on

Use the Past Continuous to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted. The interruption is usually an action in the Simple Past. Remember this can be a real interruption or just an interruption in time.

When the phone rang, she was writing a letter. While we were having a picnic, it started to rain.
I was reading when he arrived.

In other words I started reading (maybe at 8 o'clock), then he arrived (maybe at 9 o'clock), then I finished reading (maybe at 10 o'clock). Here is a diagram:


9:00 He arrived


reading reading reading reading reading

USE 2 Specific Time as an Interruption

2. We can also use the tense when we talk about an action that had already started and was still continuing at a particular time:

At five o'clock, it was raining.

Last night at 6 p.m., I was eating dinner.

In other words it started raining (maybe at 4 o'clock), and finished raining later (maybe at 7 o'clock). Here is a diagram:
5:00 (Specific time)



raining raining raining raining raining

USE 3 Parallel Actions

3. We can use the past continuous tense to show TWO past actions were happening at the same time.


While I was sleeping, she was working.

I was studying while he was making dinner. While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching television.

In other words I started sleeping and she started working (maybe at 10 o'clock), and we both finished our actions later (maybe at 12 o'clock). Here is a diagram:
10:00 11:00 12:00

(me) sleeping sleeping sleeping sleeping sleeping (her) working working working working working

4. We use past continuous tense to show that something was a past habit
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."

He was constantly talking. He annoyed everyone. I didn't like them because they

were always complaining.