Past Continuous Tense

Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous tense describes an ongoing activity that began at some time in the past and progresses up until (and perhaps beyond) a second occurrence in the past. The second occurrence interrupts the progressive activity. Both actions have already taken place before the present time.

  • She was sunbathing when the first few sprinkles of rain fell from the sky.
  • The thief was reaching for her wallet just as she inadvertently moved away.

The mention of a specific time can also serve to interrupt the past continuous tense activity.

  • At precisely 6 PM, I was eating cheese and crackers.
  • Last week, I was still hurting from her rude remarks.

When your sentence contains two or more activities in the past continuous tense, the reader assumes that they are happening simultaneously.

  • I was making dinner while you were washing the car.
  • The birds were singing at the crack of dawn while Thomas was up studying for his big test.

Forming the Past Continuous Tense

You form the past continuous tense with the past tense form of the verb “to be” + the the -ing form of the root verb.

  • I was reading when you interrupted me.
  • She was hanging upside down when she fell on the playground.
  • The doctor was taking out his stitches as he fainted.

Making the Past Continuous Tense Negative

Make the past continuous tense negative by adding “was not” to the -ing form of the root verb.

  • The car wasn’t running properly first thing this morning.
  • At 2 AM, we weren’t dancing with as much energy as we had been earlier in the evening.
  • I wasn’t writing the paper while she was studying for the exam.

Phrasing the Past Continuous Tense as a Question

To make a question with the past continuous tense, begin with the past tense form of the verb “to be,” followed by the subject and the -ing form of the root verb. Interrogatives can also begin with adverbs expressing time or place.

  • Weren’t you driving on the wrong side of the road when you got in an accident?
  • Where were you coming from when I saw you?
  • What were you doing when I walked in just now?

Learn more about verb tenses.