The past continuous tense, also known as the past progressive tense, describes continuous events that happened in the past.
In this lesson, learn how to form the past continuous tense and when you might want to use it.
What is the difference between saying ‘I walked’ and ‘I was walking’? Both of these sentences refer to actions that happened in the past. This means that the verb, or action word, is in past tense. But why then are there two different ways of saying this?Well, the answer is because there is more than one form of the past tense. ‘I walked’ is written in simple past, where you show an event happened in the past by typically adding an ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb. But ‘I was walking’ is a special form of past tense called the past continuous tense or past progressive tense that uses a helping verb and a present participle. You’ll see both of these names used in grammar books, but in this lesson we’ll stick with past continuous tense.
Forming Past Continuous
Forming the past continuous tense is pretty simple. First, you need a helping verb, which is used along with the main verb to show differences in time and mood. For the past continuous tense, if the noun doing the action is in the first-person (‘I’) or third-person singular (he, she, it), use ‘was.’ If the noun doing the action is in the second-person (‘you’) or plural (we, they), use ‘were.’Then you’ll need to use the present participle of the main verb, more commonly called the ‘-ing’ form because it’s formed by adding ‘-ing’ to the end of the verb. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Walk – walking
- Climb – climbing
- Fight – fighting
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when forming the present participle. If the verb ends in ‘e,’ you drop it, as in:
- Save – saving
- Have – having
- Love – loving
If the verb ends with a single consonant after the vowel, you double it, as in:
- Run – running
- Swim – swimming
- Sit – sitting
Combining a helping verb with a present participle gives you the past continuous tense:
- I was walking down the street.
- You were climbing a tree.
- Jan was fighting with Sally.
- We were saving money.
- They were having a party.
Use of Past Continuous
So now you know how to form past continuous tense, but the question remains: why use it? There are a few different reasons to use it.First, the past continuous tense can be used to show an action that happened at a specific time or was interrupted. For example:
- I was walking down the street when I heard a scream.
- We were saving money to buy a house but had to spend it on my surgery.
Another reason to use past continuous tense is to show two actions that are happening at the same time.
In this case the sentence often includes the word ‘while:’
- While you were climbing the tree, I did the dishes.
- While Jan was fighting with Sally, they both missed my birthday party.
The past continuous tense, also known as the past progressive tense, is a specific form of the past tense used to show that a verb in a sentence describes an action in the past. It is formed by a combination of the helping verb, ‘was’ or ‘were,’ and the present participle of the ‘-ing’ form of a verb, as in ‘I was walking.
‘ The past continuous tense can be used to show an action that happened at a specific time or was interrupted. It can also be used to show two actions happening at the same time.