What is Past Continuous Tense and How to Use it?

Today, many people take the time to learn English as a second language. Learning English while travelling, looking for a new job, talking to people on the internet can help you both personally and professionally. It can enhance career opportunities and help you connect with people from different parts of the world.

To understand English and speak fluently, we need two basic sets of knowledge: vocabulary and grammar. Although vocabulary seems to be more important, grammar is critical in constructing meaningful sentences and understanding sentences. Tenses are one of the rules of grammar that we need to know when we express ourselves in writing and speaking and in listening and reading.

Tenses in English

As in Turkish, there are three basic tenses: Past Tense, Present Tense and Future Tense. These three tenses of time form different time tenses by branching within themselves. For example, we use Past Simple Tense is for completed and finished actions in the past, while we use Past Continuous Tense to describe the certain past actions that were in progress at the time. Even though we refer to both of these tenses as past tenses and they took place in the past, we describe them by using different tenses due to their differences in meaning.

Past Continuous Tense

As stated in the example, Past Continuous Tense is the tense that we use while describing an action that was in progress during a certain time period. We can give examples such as  “I was coming ”,“ You were doing ”,“ We ​​were going”, which we know as the “geçmiş zamanın hikayesi” in Turkish. The sentence structure is basically as follows: We use Past tense auxiliary verbs “was”, “were” and we add the suffix “-ing ” to verbs. We can exemplify this as: “I was going”, “We were doing”. Creating a table for Past Continuous Tense like the following is useful to learn how and where to use this tense.

Positive Sentence (+)     Negative Sentence (-)          Question Sentence (?)

I was going.                    I wasn’t going.                        Was I going?

You were going.              You weren’t going.                 Were you going?

He was going.                  He wasn’t going.                   Was he going?

She was going.                 She wasn’t going.                Was she going?

It was going.                      It wasn’t going.                    Was it going?

We were going.                 We werent going.                 Were we going?

They were going.               They weren’t going.             Were they going?

Usage of Past Continuous Tense

  1. Actions that we took at a specific time in the past

We use Past Continuous Tense for actions that took place at a specific time in the past. Unlike Past Simple Tense, when using Continuous Tense, we emphasise the action rather than the time. To understand the difference, we can give the following examples:

Last night at 8 pm, I was doing my homework. (I was doing my homework at 8:00 last night.)

Last night at 8 pm, I did my homework. (I did my homework at 8 pm last night and finished.)

As in these examples, when we use Past Continuous Tense, we emphasize that we are doing homework at 8 pm last night and what matters is the action itself. We could have started doing homework at 8 o’clock, we could have started before 8 o’clock; this is not important. The important thing is that homework action is still going on at 8 o’clock. However, when we used Past Simple Tense, we did the homework at 8 and we finished it.

  1. Unfinished, interrupted actions in the past

We use Past Continuous Tense to describe actions that took place in the past and were interrupted somehow. This ongoing action is usually interrupted by another action and for this, we use with Simple Past tense. For example;

I was doing my homework when my mother called me. (Annem beni çağırdığında ödevimi yapıyordum.)

She was playing basketball when she hurt her leg. (Ayağını incittiğinde basketbol oynuyordu.)

As the examples show, we interrupted the ongoing action by another action. In this case, we use Past Continuous Tense to indicate or explain the action that is interrupted.

  1. Parallel actions in the past

In the past, we use Past Continuous Tense to express the same actions. In other words, if we use two actions in the same sentence with Past Continuous Tense, we can see that both actions were in progress simultaneously. For example;

I was cleaning my room while my mother was making dinner. (Annem yemek yaparken ben de odamı temizliyordum.)

They were eating, talking and laughing. (Yiyorlar, konuşuyorlar ve gülüyorlardı.)

As you can see, we can express the actions happening at the same time with Past Continuous Tense. We can use these parallel actions in the form of different actions performed by two different people, or in the same actions performed by two different people.

  1. Depiction of past events

We often use Past Continuous Tense to describe a series of events or the atmosphere in the past when storytelling in English. In the following paragraph you can see how to use this tense:

When I walked into the cafe, Ahmet and Mehmet were talking. Kemal was chatting to the waiter. Ayşe and Ali were flirting with each other and Zeynep was telling her friends one of her stories about her career. The cafe was smelling of freshly baked cake and coffee. (Kafeye girdiğimde ‌Ahmet ve Mehmet konuşuyorlardı. Kemal garson ile sohbet ediyordu. Ayşe ve Ali birbirleriyle flört ediyor ve ‌Zeynep arkadaşlarına kariyeriyle alakalı hikayelerinden birini anlatıyordu. Kafe yeni pişmiş kek ve kahve kokuyordu.)

  1. Expressing complaints in the past

We also use Past Continuous Tense to describe events that have repeatedly occurred in the past and were often uncomfortable. We use it with auxiliary words such as “Always“ or “constantly“ to emphasise our complaints.

He was always coming late for meetings. (Her zaman toplantılara geç geliyordu.)

I was constantly missing my bus. (Otobüsümü hep kaçırıyordum.)

This how we use Past Continous Tense in general. When the grammar rules are put into a simpler and a more clear way as its described in this article, it becomes very easy to learn English. Moving through examples, using the same sentence with different subjects in the form of positive, negative or question facilitates understanding. But the most important thing is to memorise no matter how much time passes after learning the information. You can achieve this through a continuous practice.

One of the simplest and most accessible ways to practice this is through the English Ninjas platform. If you want to learn and practise English in a fun way both quickly and accurately, you can sign up on this platform, then enjoy the easy from your devices regardless of time and place with experienced instructors whose native language is English. Join us to take your English to higher levels.

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