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PAST CONTINUOUS TENSE: formation and use

(example : to play / I was playing)

The past continuous tense of verbs in English is formed as follows:

Past Continuous Tense
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
Long Form Contracted Form
I was playing I was not playing I wasn't playing Was I playing?
You were playing You were not playing You weren't playing Were you playing?
He/she/it was playing He/she/it was not playing He/she/it wasn't playing Was he/she/it playing?
We were playing We were not playing We weren't playing Were we playing?
You were playing You were not playing You weren't playing Were you playing?
They were playing They were not playing They weren't playing Were they playing?

  • To talk about a continuous action which was in progress at a specific time in the past :
    • Yesterday evening, at 9 o'clock I was watching television.
    • What was I doing at 11 o'clock this morning? I was gardening.
    • At lunch-time the sun was shining.

  • It is also used in sentences with when or while, to refer to an action which was taking place when a shorter, brief event occurred.

    • Yesterday, while I was watching  television, the phone rang.
    • When my husband arrived home yesterday, I was cooking  dinner.
    • I was listening  to music when the doorbell rang.
    • While she was walking down the street, she witnessed an accident.

Reminder: use of the past simple 

The past simple tense is used to talk about finished actions in a finished period of time, for example:
  • Yesterday evening I played tennis with a friend.
  • I received the letter before I left home this morning.
  • In August last year I visited New York.

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