The past progressive tense (also called the past continuous) is formed using “was/were” and the present participle form of the main verb (e.g., “I was singing”).
The past progressive tense is used to refer to an ongoing past action that was interrupted by another past action (in the simple past tense) or to two past actions that were taking place at the same time.
It can also be used to indicate that something was habitual (usually in a critical way).
Both the past simple and past continuous are used to talk about past action. However, they have different functions:
The past simple is used to indicate that an action was completed in the past.
The past continuous is used to emphasize that an action was ongoing in the past. Sentences that use the past continuous often contain a clause in the past simple to indicate that the ongoing action was interrupted by another action.
How to form negatives
In the past continuous, negative statements are formed by adding the adverb “not” after the auxiliary verb “was/were.” This is often contracted (e.g., “wasn’t/weren’t”).
How to form questions
To ask a yes–no question using the past continuous, put “was/were” before the subject of the sentence, followed by the present participle of the main verb.
To ask a question starting with a wh-word (an interrogative pronoun like “who” or an interrogative adverb like “when”), follow the same order as above, but add the pronoun or adverb at the start of the sentence.
Passive constructions are ones in which the subject of the sentence is acted upon, rather than performing the action.
Passive sentences in the past continuous tense are formed using a subject, the auxiliary verbs “was/were” and “being,” along with the past participle of the main verb.
Worksheet: Past progressive tense
Practice using the past progressive correctly with the exercises below. In the blank space in each sentence, fill in the correct past progressive form based on the subject and verb specified (e.g., “[he / walk]” becomes “he was walking”). Some answers may also be negative statements, questions, or passive constructions.
__________ [they / sunbathe] while I was setting up the grill.
__________ [you / not / work] yesterday.
__________ [The bank / rob] when the police arrived on the scene.
What __________ [you / do] this morning?
I was cooking when you called.
The past progressive is formed using the past tense of “be” (i.e., “was/were”) and the present participle (“ing” form) of a main verb. In this instance, the past progressive is used to refer to an ongoing past action that was interrupted by another action.
They were sunbathing while I was setting up the grill.
In this instance, the past progressive is used to refer to two actions that were taking place at the same time in the past.
You were not working yesterday.
In the past progressive, negative statements are formed by adding “not” after “was/were.”
The bank was being robbed when the police arrived on the scene.
Passive sentences in the past progressive are formed using a subject (“the bank”), the auxiliary verbs “was/were” and “being,” along with the past participle of the main verb (“robbed”).
What were you doing this morning?
To ask a question starting with a wh-word, add the wh-word at the start of the sentence, followed by “was/were,” the subject of the sentence (“you”), and the present participle of the main verb (e.g., “doing”).
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The past continuous tense (also called the past progressive) is a verb form used to describe an action that was ongoing at a time in the past (e.g., “I was singing,” “you were eating,” “they were playing”).
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