Past Continuous Tense Chart & Table in English with Rules, Usage Examples, Definitions, and Best Practices for English Learners

past continuous tense chart

What is Past Continuous?

Continuous tenses are also referred to as progressive tenses. The Past Continuous or Past Progressive tense indicates to an ongoing action, event, or state that was happening at some period of time before now. You can also use the past continuous tense when you want to emphasize that one action was happening before another action interrupted it, or when two actions were ongoing at the same time in the past.

The Importance of a Tense Chart in English Language Learning

Tense charts place grammatical concepts in the English language in a clear itemized picture. Such tools are popular among learners of the English language. Not only are they extremely useful, but they make invaluable references to complex language concepts. Charts are often stripped down to the essentials of grammar subjects, so they can be easily used for comparisons to minimize or completely eliminate confusion.

A total of 12 verb tenses make up one part of English grammar. But in reality, only 4 tenses are commonly employed in general communication or conversational English. These are the 3 simple tenses (simple present, simple past, and simple future) and the present continuous tense. This isn’t to say that the 8 other tenses are useless. Learning them is useful for more advanced language requirements, namely in academic and professional settings. Using advanced verb tenses can often make you sound confident, trustworthy, and knowledgeable. 

Nevertheless, since there are 12 tenses that refer to 12 different points in time, grammar rules can easily confuse students. Using simple tenses is a much easier option and is often adequate enough to express what you want. For instance, “The library closes at 10.” is a much simpler way of saying “The library will have been closed at 10.” Although the implied emphasis on both statements is distinctive (the former is a fact, and the latter is an explanation), they can both have similar meanings to people who are privy to the topic of conversation. Many students mistake tenses as the only way to express their specific time frames. Rather, indicating one idea can sometimes be expressed in different tenses. The perspective is that you have options, and all of them are grammatically correct.

Verb tense charts or tables like the ones in this article can help you navigate these “technical” nuances. They will also show you the various uses of each tense and how to apply them in everyday situations. These charts are formulaic, comprehensive, and easy to follow. It’s a great tool to improve your understanding of tenses and verbs and ultimately advance your writing and speaking fluency in the English language.

Past Continuous Tense Formula and Examples

Study the past continuous tense structure in the following table:

Past Continuous Tense Structure Chart

TenseRules and FormulaExample
Past ContinuousSubject + Was/were + present participle form of the verb (-ing form) + the rest of the sentenceWe were eating in the cafeteria when the earthquake hit.

Past Continuous in Sentence Examples

  • The wind was blowing hard at the cliffside.
  • My electric fan was making a creaking noise.
  • She was looking for her phone at the picnic grounds.
  • Melaka was reading her book when Agustin texted her.
  • Benito was cleaning the deck earlier when I came home.
  • Hyori was trying to untangle the knots of the fishing nets.
  • The hawkers at the mall were discussing the price of seafood.
  • Everyone was clapping while Jeremy was delivering his speech.
  • Yuki was feeding her cats when a huge rat darted across the floor.
  • They were always having parties that annoyed the entire neighborhood.

Past Continuous Uses Chart and Examples

The following table shows the past continuous tense definition according to usage.

Past Continuous Usage Chart

Past Ongoing EventsActions that continued for a past period of time.Jenna was visiting the orphanage.
Background EventsEvents that were happening in the background of more important or main events.Miko was talking to his friend when they announced his name.
ReasonsContexts or reasons behind events or actions.The neighbors were making so much noise so we reported them.
Adverbs of FrequencyRepeated, accidental, and annoying events, and commonly used with adverbs of frequency such as forever, constantly, and always. In this case, the adverb is placed after the helping or auxiliary verb (was/were) and before the present participle (-ing)She was always visiting without warning.

Past Continuous Tense Use

1. Events ongoing in the past

  • The show was running late. 
  • Goshiri was changing the tires.
  • They were mixing cocktails in the kitchen.
  • was trying to read at least two books a week.
  • We were celebrating the holiday at the Calsena’s cottage.
  • Clayton and his friends were shooting a horror film at the school.

2. Background events

  • We were hiking when we heard someone cry for help.
  • Minha was drinking coffee when the surprise guest arrived.
  • Sean was staring at the horizon before he noticed the blimp.
  • They were taking pictures before the double rainbow appeared.
  • Monica was climbing up the stairs when she heard the front door slam.
  • The staff was shucking the last batch of oysters when more orders came.

3. Reasons or contexts for events

  • Sorry, I’m late, I was assisting a client.
  • Gerlie was playing on the roof so she slipped.
  • We called the police because they were fighting.
  • I didn’t hear the doorbell because I was listening to music.
  • They were exhausted because they were traveling nonstop.
  • Bosco was being preposterous that’s why Diego screamed at him.

4. Recurring, unlikeable or accidental events (with frequency adverbs)

  • Neil was constantly sleeping in class.
  • Lucas was forever cleaning that house.
  • My cousin Hyacinth was constantly losing his stuff.
  • Antonella was always asking about personal things.
  • Jim’s annoying, he was repeatedly knocking on his desk.
  • The theater club was forever asking for donations from the school.
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Past Continuous Tense Chart with Different Sentence Structures

The past continuous tense isn’t only formed on the basis of time references or time expressions but is also further modified depending on the structure of sentences where it’s used. Study the following chart for every distinct use of past continuous tense.

(Important: In conversational English, native speakers normally use contractions i.e She wasn’t feeling well. or They weren’t feeling well. Spelling it out as was not or were not is also correct, but this is typically used in more formal contexts.)

Past Continuous Sentence Structure Guide Chart

Sentence StructureFormulaExample
AffirmativeSubject + Was/were + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)Clarissa was spending time planning lessons for the camp.
NegativeSubject + Wasn’t/Weren’t + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)The partygoers weren’t expecting the crowd to be so huge.
Interrogative (affirmative)Was/Were + Subject + Present participle form (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?Was Maxine clearing the path for the other hikers?
Interrogative (negative)Wasn’t/Weren’t + Subject + Been + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?Wasn’t Brekker cooking with the new griller?
Interrogative with Question WordQuestion word + Was/were + Subject (at times unnecessary with the question word “who”) + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?Why were the employees gathering in the break room? 

More Past Continuous Tense Examples in Different Sentence Structures

1. Affirmative Sentence

Formula for Affirmative/Positive Sentences
Subject + Was/Were + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)

Affirmative past continuous tense sentences:

  • It was snowing like crazy.
  • I was craving Korean food two days ago.
  • You were standing near the edge of the cliff.
  • They were flying to France for the film festival.
  • My friends and I were attending different universities.
  • Vivian’s whole family was planning to visit us this summer.

2. Negative Sentence

Formula for Negative Sentences
Subject + Wasn’t/Weren’t + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)

Negative sentence examples of past continuous tense:

  • We weren’t buying this for her.
  • They weren’t being careful during the dive.
  • He wasn’t keeping the information to himself.
  • The children weren’t swimming in the kiddie pool.
  • My class wasn’t preparing for the IELTS Speaking exam.
  • Mr. Javi wasn’t recording his team’s instances of tardiness.

3. Interrogative (affirmative)

Formula for Interrogative Affirmative Sentences
Was/Were + Subject + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?

Interrogative (affirmative) past continuous tense example sentences:

  • Was she picking daisies in the field?
  • Was Jackson wrapping the presents?
  • Was the cop asking Aaron to show his ID?
  • Were they planting seeds on that patch of land?
  • Was Amanda shopping for their trip to Singapore?
  • Were they eating dinner at that new Japanese place?

4. Interrogative (negative)

Formula for Interrogative Negative Sentences
Wasn’t/Weren’t + Subject + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence? 

Interrogative (negative) sentence past continuous tense examples:

  • Wasn’t the horse neighing a moment ago?
  • Wasn’t he complaining the whole drive here?
  • Weren’t they making reservations for the rooftop?
  • Weren’t the foreign explorers eating well on the trip?
  • Wasn’t Arthur training to be a certified yoga instructor?
  • Weren’t you confirming the reservation for the cable cars?

5. Interrogative with Question Word

Formula for Interrogative Sentences with Question Words
Question word + Was/Were + Subject (at times unnecessary with the question word “who”) + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?

Interrogative past continuous tense examples in English (with question words)

  • What were they listening to?
  • Who was listening to the seminar?
  • Who was Jin reporting to at the firm?
  • Why was Brandy listing her new house?
  • Why weren’t the mosquitoes biting Wilson?
  • When were the next-door neighbors visiting?
English Continuous Tense


A comprehensive chart of verb tense rules and usage is an indispensable tool for any learner of the English language. Utilizing the tables in this article will bring tremendous benefits to your learning experience. In addition to explaining the past perfect continuous in detail, our blog also provides a variety of other articles related to all twelve tenses. Verb tenses, as you know, reference the common and generally considered definite times of speaking (past, present, and future), their typical conjugations (simple, continuous, perfect, continuous), and the more advanced forms that signify moods: indicative (statements and questions), subjunctive (conditionals), and imperative (commands or requests). Students who use the website and learning app will learn how to identify tensive forms correctly and apply them properly in various situations. They will also gain a proper and perfect understanding of the different types of sentence structures and their significance to verb forms. You will know each tense’s usage in specific circumstances. Furthermore, you will get exposure to authentic or practical example sentences that can be customized and applied to your own chart creations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you give 10 past continuous examples?

Here are 10 sample sentences past continuous tense:
1. The car was honking all morning.
2. Wasn’t she buying eggs at the market?
3. Why were they standing by the counter?
4. Rooney’s dogs weren’t playing in the yard.
5. Tracy was irritated because Toby wasn’t listening.
6. Glenn was driving his bike when the accident took place.
7. The train was pulling up when Katarina arrived at the station.
8. His mother was constantly screaming at him to clean his room.
9. They weren’t exercising at their usual spot in the park when I checked.
10. The members were discussing where to go for the after-concert party.

What is the tense past continuous?

The past continuous is one of the 4 forms of the past tense. You use it generally when you talk about the period when an action or event was taking place in the past. There are several uses for the past tense continuous such as describing background events or reasons for an occurrence. Also, there are many other past continuous rules for different sentence structures.  

What are the past continuous tense rules?

The main past continuous rule describes the structure of past continuous tense verbs. The past continuous structure is easy to remember. It uses the auxiliary verbs “was” or “were” depending on whether your subject is singular or plural and the present participle or -ing form of the main verb. The past continuous structure changes according to which sentences you use it in. All the various conjugations are included in this article.

When should you use “has been” and “was”?

“Has been” and “was” are both helping or auxiliary verbs. “Has been” is the perfect tense form of “have” and “was” is the past tense form of “is”. You use “has been” with singular subjects in perfect tenses. Meanwhile, you use “was” in continuous or progressive tenses.

How should I learn tenses perfectly?

Learning the use of past continuous tense, for instance, is one step into learning tenses perfectly. Make use of charts and tables to study grammar rules and practice by making as many sentences as you can during your study time and applying them to actual conversations and English writing.

What is the difference between past and past continuous tense?

The past tense is the umbrella and general term for events, actions, and conditions in the past. The past continuous tense is one of its 4 forms (the others being simple past, past perfect, and past perfect continuous).

Can you give simple past continuous tense examples?

 This is the essential formula of the past continuous tense: Subject + Was/were + present participle form of the verb (-ing form) + the rest of the sentence (or none). If you follow it, you will be able to make as many simple continuous tense examples as you can. “I was playing.” is an example.

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William Landry

William Landry

William is a professional English and ESL teacher with over 15 years of experience. He has taught students of all ages, from children to business executives, and has worked with ESL learners from all over the globe. With a degree in English Education, William has developed curriculum for learners of all levels and interests. He is passionate about helping people learn English effectively and shares his knowledge with the LillyPad community. When he’s not teaching or writing, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.

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