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Past Progressive

Breaking Down the Past Progressive Tense

As with all progressive tenses always happening continuously, the Past Progressive or Past Continuous tense (as it's also known) shows action that was continuously in progress in the past when another action happened.

We use past progressive tense to indicate that a prevailing action in the past was interrupted.

See Practical Examples
  • I was cooking when the bell rang.
  • You were reading a book when she brought the kids.

In the examples above both actions occurred at the same time, but one action began earlier and was in progress when the other action occurred.

Again, the past progressive is also used in both parts of a sentence when two actions are in progress simultaneously.

See Practical Examples
  • She was eating while are brothers were playing football.
  • While I was studying in one room of our apartment, my brother was having a haircut in adjacent room.

Likewise, the simple pastOpens in new window and the past progressive give almost the same meaning, as in:

Simple past:
  • Andy fought this morning.
Past progressive:
  • Andy was fighting this morning.

These two sentences mean the same thing.

How to Use the Past Progressive Tense

1.  Expression of Affirmative Statements with Past Progressive Tense: To make affirmative statement with past continuous/progressive tense, we use the structure: subject + was/were + ...ing form of verb.

Examples include:
  • Andy was cooking dinner when the power circuit exploded.
  • While we were discussing, I saw a boy jumped off the window.
  • Lola and Emerald were studying when the pizza was delivered.

2.  Expression of Negative Statements with Past Progressive Tense: To make negative statement with past continuous/progressive tense, we use the structure: subject + was/were + not + ...ing form of verb. In alternative, the contracted form: subject + wasn’t/weren’t + ...ing form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • Andy wasn’t cooking dinner when the power circuit exploded.
  • We were not discussing, when I saw a boy jumped off the window.
  • Lola and Emerald were not studying when the pizza was delivered.
  • I can’t remember anything he said because I wasn’t listening.

3.  Expression of Interrogative Statements with Past Progressive Tense: To make interrogative statement with past continuous/progressive tense, the structure: (interrogative word) + was/were + subject + ...ing form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • was Andy cooking dinner when the power circuit exploded?
  • What were Lola and Emerald studying when the pizza was delivered?
  • Do you think Andy was listening when you told him the information?

4.  Expression of Negative Interrogative Statements with Past Progressive Tense: To make negative interrogative statement with past continuous tense, the structure: (interrogative word) + wasn’t/weren’t + subject + verb–ing / (interrogative word) + was/were + not + subject + ing form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • Wasn’t Andy cooking dinner when the power circuit exploded?
  • why weren’t Lola and Emerald studying when the pizza was delivered?
  • Do you think Andy was not listening when you told him the information?

Note that the Interrogatives are rarely used in formal contexts. Chances are you will seldom have needs to use interrogatives.

    The Four Aspects of Past Tense
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