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Past continuous

Past continuous construction: was/were + gerund (verb + ing)

Example verb: make

I was making   We were making
You were making You (guys) were making
He/she/it was making     They were making

We use the past continuous to talk about an action in the past that was prolonging or that was about to be interrupted 

  • was studying yesterday for over five hours.
  • You were watching the game yesterday when your mum came in. ( ‘your mum came in’ is interrupting the action of ‘watching the game’). 
  • What were you doing on Saturday? I was playing video games.

We use the past continuous to talk about parallel actions in the past (more than one action occurring at the same time) 

  • They were working yesterday while their colleagues were enjoying their time outside.
  • She was helping her friend while her friend was cleaning her room.

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

We can use the past continuous to talk about the atmosphere or ambience of the past 

  • When we entered the mall there were people yelling and shoppers were screaming at one another.
  • Yesterday when I went to the football game I saw that people were happily cheering on their local teams.

Adverbs are normally used with the past continuous to modify the verb, adjective or other adverbs

Adverbs such as: only, just, still, ever, always, never, sometimes etc.

  • What were you doing in the office after hours yesterday? I was just hanging around to see if could find my friend.
  • She was never going to see him in the first place.
  • When she arrived yesterday I was still waiting for her for over thirty minutes.

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

Lesson #21: Past continuous

Explanation

Construction: was/were + gerund (verb + ing)

Example verb: watch

I was watching   We were watching
You were watching You (guys) were watching
He/she/it was watching     They were watching
  • We use the past continuous to talk about an action in the past that was prolonging or that was about to be interrupted. 
  • We use the past continuous to talk about parallel actions in the past (more than one action occurring at the same time). 
  • We can use the past continuous to talk about the atmosphere or ambience of the past. 
  • Remember, we generally use adverbs with the past continuous to modify the verb, adjective or other adverbs that go in the sentence. Adverbs such as: only, just, still, ever, always, never, sometimes etc.

Context

  • What were you doing last weekend, Katie?1
  • I was preparing for an exam.2
  • Oh, what kind of exam?
  • Well, I was preparing for an English literature exam that I had to do last Friday.3
  • How did you find it?
  • To be honest, even though I was studying all weekend I still felt like I hadn’t prepared enough for the exam. It’s just, you have to remember so much information.
  • How was the exam?
  • It went OK, but I felt as if I was forgetting too many important details because I was going through a lot of stress.4
  • Yes, but what kind of exam was it?
  • It consisted of two parts, a writing and five questions.
  • Interesting, so how did your studying go, then?
  • It wasn’t the best. While I was studying my little brother was always bothering me by playing his PlayStation far too loudly.5 It was extremely annoying.6
  • I bet it was!
  • To make matters worse, while I was trying to study, he was constantly yelling and screaming as he was playing.7
  • Little brothers can be so annoying.

Analysis

  1. What were you doing last weekend, Katie? The past continuous (were you doing) is used to describe an action in the past that was prolonging, that is, the action’s duration lasted for some time.
  2. I was preparing for an exam. The past continuous is used here (was preparing) to describe an action that was prolonging.
  3. I was preparing for an English literature exam that I had to do last Friday. The past continuous is used to describe a prolonged action in the past.
  4. I was forgetting too many important details because I was going through a lot of stress. The past continuous is used two times here, and two parallel actions in the past are occurring, that is, two actions at the same time were occurring, therefore the past continuous is used.
  5. While I was studying my little brother was always bothering me by playing his PlayStation far too loudly. There are two parallel actions happening. The first action: studying, and the second action: the little brother playing his PlayStation. That’s why the past continuous is used here.
  6. It was extremely annoying. The adverb ‘extremely’ is used with the past continuous. Remember, it’s very common to use adverbs with the past continuous. I.e. I was really annoying my sister. You were speaking loudly. The adverbs ‘really’ and ‘loudly’ are modifying the verbs ‘annoy’ and ‘speak’.
  7. While I was trying to study, he was constantly yelling and screaming as he was playing. Here, two parallel actions are occurring at the same time, thus the past continuous forms are being used.

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