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PAST CONTINUOUS – How do I use it correctly?

PAST CONTINUOUS – How do I use it correctly?

The past continuous is formed: was/were + verb ‘ing’

 

Remember!

I was
You were
He/She/It was
They were
We were

 

TIP: the past continuous usually isn’t the main action. It is the background action. It gives you the feeling of the past situation. 

 

 

#1 – the most common use

Use the past continuous for the background action.
Use the past simple for the interruption.

 

past continuous

 

past continuous

 

Other examples:

We were walking through the park when he tried to kiss me.
background action: were walking
interruption: tried to kiss me

 

It was raining and I couldn’t open my umbrella.
background action: was raining
interruption: couldn’t open

 

I was petting the dog and she bit me!
background action: was petting
interruption: bit

 

 

#2

Use the past continuous for two background actions happening at the same time.

 

past continuous

 

 

past continuous

 

Other examples:

The picnic was absolutely lovely; the sun was shining and the birds were singing.
two background actions: was shining/were singing

 

The wind was blowing like mad, not to mention we were all getting soaked by the rain.
two background actions: was blowing/were getting

 

#3

Use the past continuous when you really want to emphasise something that takes time. The length of time is important. 

 

Detective: What were you doing at 6 PM yesterday evening?
Suspect: I was watching a film with my girlfriend. 
(The length of the action is emphasised.) 

 

Builders were drilling all afternoon. I now have this massive headache. 
(The length of the action is emphasised.) 

 

Where were you? I was waiting in the rain for over 1 hour!
(The length of the action is emphasised.) 

 


 

Many times, if the the same subject is doing more than one action, we do not need to repeat the subject and we can omit the extra ‘was/were’.

 

The detective was sitting in his car  and he was watching the house.

 

I was biting my lip and was trying not to laugh.

 

Sally was crying her eyes out as she was telling me about her breakup.

 

 


 

Some verbs cannot be used in the past continuous.

 

‘Stative verbs’ are not used in continuous tenses. Stative verbs include: love, know, believe, remember and want.

 

I remembered everything about the crime scene.

I was remembering everything about the crime scene.

 

 

What are STATIVE VERBS?

 

Verbs which can only happen quickly (in one moment) are not usually made continuous.

 

I fell down the stairs this morning.

I was falling down the stairs this morning.

This is unnatural. When you fall, it is a quick action. There cannot be an interruption or another action at the same time.

 

I found a job!

I was finding a job!

If you find a job, this is one action. It’s a short moment. There cannot be an interruption or another action at the same time.

 

With these verbs, use the simple past. 


 

Thank you so much for reading! Please leave a comment! 

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