Past Continuous Tense: Examples, Definition, Use, Formula, Structure, Rules & Exercises for English Learners

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The basics of any language are comprised of grammar and semantics. In English, we first learn the syntax and structural rules before we navigate aspects of linguistic meaning. We initially learn about the various parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, conjunction, adverb, and so forth. After we acquire a level of competence, we then find out how to create sentences. Sentence creation largely involves the use of verbs, and a vital part of utilizing verbs effectively is understanding the tenses.

Verb tenses are word forms that describe events, activities, and conditions in certain periods of time or time frames. They may refer to either complete or incomplete actions and may include exact or unspecified points in time. The Present, the Past, and the Future are the major tenses, each one further sorted into four forms: simple tense, continuous or progressive tense, perfect tense, and perfect continuous or perfect progressive tense. This means there’s a total of 12 tenses in English grammar. The proper use of these tenses allows clear communication as each one conveys a different meaning. For example, the following sentences state different times in which an action takes place: “I drink coffee”, “I drank coffee”, and “I will drink coffee.” The word “drink” describes a habit or general truth. “Drank”, on the other hand, talks about an action that was finished. And finally “will drink” refers to a plan.

Verbs may not seem so different from one another, but each alteration follows an exact set of grammatical rules and can help you communicate your thoughts or ideas clearly. A higher proficiency with tenses is an essential skill, especially in more complex language requirements that you’ll encounter down the line. Before moving on to more advanced usages, here are the primary rules of these common tense types. Use them as a starting point before exploring more complicated usages.

  • To talk about facts, or events in or around the existing time, use the Present Tense.
  • For actions that were completed previously, apply the Past Tense.
  • When expressing plans, predictions, and possibilities, employ the Future Tense.

Continue reading to learn more about the Past Continuous Tense through tables and over 100 examples that show formulas and patterns across different structures.

What is the Past Continuous Tense Definition and Meaning?

What is past continuous tense exactly? Like all progressive tenses that denote continuous actions, the past continuous tense emphasizes ongoing events or actions in progress. You use it to describe what you were in the middle of doing at a point in the past, which means the action started but hasn’t ended during that time. Illustrated simply, let’s say you hung out with your friends from 6 pm until 8 pm yesterday. You can say “I was hanging out with my friends at 7 pm yesterday.” We also use the past continuous to set the background when we’re telling a story, similar to providing the context before an event begins. In this case, we begin the story using the past continuous tense before shifting to the simple past tense. Between two actions in the past, we use the past continuous to refer to the longer action and the simple past tense for the shorter action. Let’s take a look at the past tenses to see how the past continuous form is conjugated in the table below:

Simple Past TenseYoung-Ju made some coffee.
Nookie growled at the other dog.
Ravan gave me some candy to eat.
Sada knew the story behind the event.
Dane cooked chicken in pineapple sauce
Past Continuous TenseVivian was feeding the baby.
Aida was jumping for a photo.
They were staying at the cafe at 8.
Min-kyeong was washing the dishes.
Eula and Bong were transporting boxes.
Past Perfect TenseLina had studied art.
Nevie had poured the tea.
Kira had identified the problem.
Mossa had lived in the Middle East.
Seok-jin and Adam had worked for us.
Past Perfect Continuous TensePedro had been storing wood.
Fi had been wearing strong perfume.
Yeng had been assisting the students.
Clayton had been reviewing the footage.
Havaan had been taking the cat to the vet.
English Past Continuous Tense

5 Tips on How should English Learners Best Study and Learn the Proper Usage of Past Tense Words?

1. Look for grammar resources or reference materials such as tenses articles on this blog to learn what you can, not just about the past continuous tense but also the other 11 tenses in English grammar.

2. Read as many example sentences develop a solid grasp of the past continuous tense’s correct form. You will be able to familiarize yourself with the structure or patterns in various sentence types such as negative tenses and questions.

3. Dedicate some pages in your vocabulary notebook for verbs and conjugations. It’s easier to remember them because you activate the learning process in a more significant way as soon as you spend time writing things you’ve learned on paper. Separate the verbs according to tenses such as the past continuous tense. After that, try writing examples taken from your own activities. Practice becomes more meaningful when sentence subjects are rooted in your experience.

4. To do more practice, think of a personal story and narrate it using the past continuous tense in combination with other tenses such as the simple past tense when it makes sense and serves your story. You can also look at a past continuous tense example and try telling your story with its pattern. A friend can help you as a listener or interviewer.

5. Make your own charts and tables of English grammar rules and examples. These tools are productive and allow you to retain vocabulary and practice making an example of past continuous tense. In addition, you’ll be able to trigger your background knowledge as well when you need it.

How Do You Use the Past Continuous Tense?

According to past continuous tense rules, its primary usage is to describe actions that started and were in progress at some point in the past. Other uses include setting the context or background of a story. Past continuous tense sentences also refer to longer actions when two actions are contained in a sentence.

15 Common Verb Examples in Past Continuous Tense Conjugation

Base VerbPast Continuous Form
ArrangeMisha was arranging the sticks into piles.
ImitateRobert was imitating the sound of birds.
DescribeYenna was describing her trip.
SleepThe kids were sleeping in the yurt.
PlanAsaki and Boon were planning a party.
ReplaceDiether was replacing the battery.
TeachWe were teaching at the Hanoi campus.
EatMany cows were eating grass.
AnswerBalin was answering the Math quiz.
MatchLee and Jae-bin were matching the cards.
ClimbYou were climbing the hill over there.
ReadSeul-gi was reading the poster.
LaughWe were laughing so hard at the joke.
EnterThe guests were entering the hall.
TurnHe was turning the steaks over the grill.

What is the Past Continuous Tense Formula?

Past Continuous Tense Formula
Subject + was + the present participle + Rest of sentence (or object).

Structures of the Past Continuous Tenses

The examples of past continuous tense we’ve shown so far are in the affirmative or positive sentence structure. There are other kinds of sentences, and each past continuous tense structure varies according to sentence type, which involves negative and question words. The past continuous tense rule uses the -ing form of the verb or its present participle. The chart in the next segment shows negative, interrogative, and interrogative negative sentence structures.

21 Past Continuous Tense Verbs in Other Sentence Types

Previously, each sentence past continuous tense follows is in the affirmative. The following deviates from the basic examples and consists of example of past tense continuous in negative and question sentences.

(Important: Native English speakers normally use the contractions like “wasn’t” and “weren’t” in conversations. Spelling out the auxiliary verbs as “did not” and “had not” is just as correct, but this is more commonly used in formal contexts like academic or business writing. We’ve used the contraction of the verb forms in the table below.)

Sentence StructureFormulaExamples
NegativeSubject + Wasn’t/Weren’t + Past participle + Rest of sentence.he wasn’t following the schedule yesterday.
They weren’t buying different kinds of books.
Their teacher wasn’t smiling the entire time period.
We weren’t discussing the book’s introduction to tenses.
Reba’s team wasn’t cleaning the cabin yesterday evening.
The rain wasn’t indicating that it was a temporary situation.
InterrogativeWas/Were + Subject + Present participle + Rest of sentence?Was she cleaning the house yesterday morning?
Were they boiling the broth longer than necessary?
Was Javier telling us the phone lines were dead yesterday?
Were they giving a bunch of examples in the previous exercise?
Were they arguing about the long-term effects of parallel actions?
Was Petra’s phone losing the signal at the west part of the summit?
Were Yechan and his relatives having an outdoor dinner yesterday? 
Interrogative NegativeWasn’t/Weren’t+ Subject + Present participle + Rest of sentence?Wasn’t I minding my own business just then?
Weren’t they clearing the yard after the typhoon?
Wasn’t the schedule yesterday matching with yours?
Wasn’t the person running from the crowd on the video?
Weren’t they recording the events at the dinner yesterday?
Wasn’t she updating the downloadable exercise on the website?
Wasn’t Glindel informing the rest of the team about the conference?
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Past Continuous Tense Usage

As you can see, the basic structure of past continuous tense isn’t difficult to remember. Use the helping verb was/were or wasn’t/weren’t plus the present participle or –ing form of the verb. Past continuous examples typically refer to events that were taking place during a period in the past. The types of sentences past continuous tense can be used are varied as well. Just like all the other tenses, the past continuous tense use includes negative sentences, and open and closed questions (and their negative equivalents).

15 More Past Continuous Tense Examples

Here are 15 more past continuous tense sentence examples for further reference.

1. Was James singing on the way home?

2. Tae Hyung was mixing drinks in the bar.

3. Alana wasn’t collecting X-men trading cards.

4. Were Jerry and Allen drinking until midnight?

5. Wasn’t Tanya auditioning for the leading role?

6. They weren’t buying masks at the store yesterday.

7. Makoto was riding the 6 pm train with his cousins.

8. Na-young and Asari were roasting chicken outdoors.

9. Kaia was killing time at the museum’s Egyptian wing.

10. We were trimming the hedges at Mister Han’s property.

11. Was Min-ji tending to the animals at Wigen’s plantation?

12. Weren’t Ronnie and Kenzo living in Nagoya 6 months ago?

13. Zuber was customizing the color scheme with the software.

14. Ichiyo and Kevin were exchanging gifts at the Christmas party.

15. Desiree and her friends were distributing doughnuts at the rally.

5 Common Mistakes English Students Make When Learning to Use the Past Continuous Tense

1. Spelling Errors. Mistakes in spelling are a common problem for English learners. Since there are 3 continuous tenses and 3 perfect continuous tenses, it’s easy to confuse conjugations and contractions, especially in writing.

2. Using the wrong tense. Interchanging is and was is a common spelling mistake, but is sometimes also an error in expression. It could be that a person has formed habits when speaking and automatically assume a certain tense that they commonly use. Additionally, the continuous and perfect continuous tenses have very similar meanings and can also be easily confused with each other.

3. Following 1 method of learning. There are tons of ways to learn English on your own: listen-and-repeat exercises, vocabulary journals, language learning software, textbooks, grammar charts and tables, and so on. Following only one way without supplemental tools is a huge mistake.

4. Switching Tenses when telling a story. Talking at length can’t be sustained by many language learners. Oftentimes, a narrative will need different tenses to make sense, but this is in terms of “aspects”, such as using the past continuous to establish a background of a story, or a reason behind the main event (which will, in turn, use the simple past). A rampant mistake is switching between the main tenses such as mixing present and past tenses.

5. Direct translations from the mother tongue. This rarely captures the exact idea as English may have different expressions for what you want to say. Translating from English to your mother tongue in order to understand what an English speaker says may not generate the desired results as well.  

5 Ways to Avoid Making Common Mistakes

1. Make sure your goals are achievable. Language objectives that aim to get many results in a short time are rarely doable, or logical. Unrealistic benchmarks can make you even more frustrated and hamper progress. It takes time to master any language, so you should consider your proficiency level and learning pace before setting goals.

2. Listen and Speak. Learn by exposure. Listen to native speakers and use what you learn. Whether you’re engaging in actual conversation or watching films, tv shows, and instructional videos, you can activate your background knowledge by applying it in real-life interactions. You can study a language for decades but only achieve the most minimal progress if you don’t speak. You will make many mistakes in the beginning and may not completely eradicate them, but awareness and self-correction will allow you to learn continuously and gain steady progress.

3. Decide on a tense. Listen to yourself when you’re talking and be aware of the tenses you use. Ensure that you are making a conscious effort to use verbs in tenses that make sense in whatever topic you’re talking or writing about. Although conversational English only typically utilizes simple tenses and the present continuous tense, more advanced and complex tenses are common in academic and professional language requirements.

4. Translate when necessary. It’s natural for language learners to translate, and it is almost impossible not to. But don’t make it a clutch or habit. It’s counter-productive especially when tenses are involved. Study examples and grammar tables and model the way you talk after native speakers. Also, understand the context used where phrases or expressions are used and apply them when encountering similar conditions.

5. Adapt rules to your speech or writing. Memorization is the first method of proficiency. Participle forms, auxiliary verbs, and sentence types benefit from this. However, you should supplement this with awareness, and practical and constant usage. It’s easy to fall into wrong language habits but very difficult to unlearn them. You should recognize the mistakes you commonly and adapt the proper rules to correct them before they fossilize.

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The Past Continuous Tense: Checking Your Understanding

Tenses Exercises with Answers: the Past Continuous Tense

1. Isaan (whistle) ……………………. in the dark.

2. Dean (write) ……………………. at three o’clock.

3. (run/question) ………. Oshen …………………….?

4. The kids (plan) ……………………. to visit the park.

5. Luke (do/negative) ……………………. his homework.

6. (sleep/question) ………. you ……………….. well last night?

7. Rekka and Tino (replace) ……………………. the damaged parts.

8. (touch/question/negative) ………. Hajin ……………….. the board?

9. (laugh/question/negative) ………. they ……………….. at the situation?

10. They (shout) ……………………. so I can hear them from across the field.


1. Isaan was whistling in the dark.

2. Dean was writing at three o’clock.

3. Was Oshen running?

4. The kids were planning to visit the park.

5. Luke wasn’t doing his homework.

6. Were you sleeping well last night?

7. Rekka and Tino were replacing the damaged parts.

8. Wasn’t Hajin touching the board?

9. Weren’t they laughing at the situation?

10. They were shouting so I can hear them from across the field.

25 Past Continuous Tense Sentence Examples:

Past continuous examples for longer of two past events

1. He was grilling the meat while I ate.

2. I was walking past the bicycle when it fell over.

3. The boss called while the employees were painting the car.

4. She was teaching them Math when the principal showed up.

5. When the accident happened, Stella was talking on the phone.

The past continuous sentence as background info

6. I was staying at the resort where we met.

7. They were working at the hospital as volunteers.

8. The animals were grazing in the field and it was raining.

9. Tilly was arguing with the boss yesterday and now she’s absent.

10. Esther and Gerlie were installing the cameras for the corporate party.

Simple past continuous tense examples

11. Solo was typing

12. Jacque was eating.

13. Radha was dancing.

14. The dogs were howling.

15. The children were whining.

The formula of past continuous tense with question words

16. How was she traveling across the state?

17. Why were they talking during the meeting?

18. Where were the firemen taking the documents?

19. What was she preparing in the courtyard kitchen?

20. Why was Agnes making so many clay pots for the fair?

Interrogative Negative with Question Words 

21. Why wasn’t Gladys painting in the shed?

22. Who wasn’t fixing the motorcycle yesterday?

23. Why weren’t the kids presenting their watercolor art?

24. Which restaurant wasn’t offering a Christmas discount?

25. Which parts weren’t working when you turned on the machine?

Here are 10 common present participle forms verbs that are used in the Past Continuous Tense

Let’s read an extra 10 sentences of past continuous tense for further reference.

1. Typhoon Iki was breaking the dam.

2. Dr. Dadivas was completing the procedure.

3. The attendees were listening to the new song.

4. Oliver was studying at the Davis Library at 8 pm.

5. Alena was furnishing her new home with ceramics.

6. Udelle and Ken were describing the new bar in town.

7. They were imitating the strategy of the previous team.

8. Sloane was coughing after he ate the buttered shrimp.

9. Officer Torres was analyzing the footage of the car theft.

10. Hayden was coaching the kids’ teams yesterday afternoon.

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In this article, we’ve covered the basic and some advanced concepts regarding the past continuous tense. By now you’ll have a good understanding of its definitions, formulas, and usage. Our website has many more articles dedicated to the remaining tenses that contain comprehensive information, practical charts, and hundreds of examples to supplement your English language learning. It’s essential to utilize these tools for self-directed study. Take a look around and you’ll find the best reference materials to aid with your progress and improve proficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions for Past Continuous Tense

What are the verbs in past continuous?

The conjugation of verbs in the past continuous tense is called the present particle. Past continuous sentences need the -ing form of the verb. The past continuous rule states a formula that comes with the auxiliary verbs was and were.

What is the difference between past continuous tense and past perfect continuous tense?

Using the helping or auxiliary verbs “was” or “were” is a rule of past continuous tense. The past perfect continuous tense, on the other hand, used the auxiliary verb “had been”. The past continuous tense describes an action that was happening when another action interrupted it. Its main emphasis is the continuity of the event. For example, “When I got home, my mother was cooking.” At that moment in the past, my mother was cooking. When it started or stopped doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, the past perfect continuous tense focuses not only on an action’s continuity but its duration as well, which means the action was in progress and then stopped at some point in the past. For example, “The police had been looking for the culprit for 3 hours when they found him behind a dumpster.” So the police had been looking for the suspect and took 3 hours to finish looking.

When do we use the past continuous tense?

We use the continuous past tense to describe actions that were in progress in the past before some other thing preempted it or took place. The definition of past continuous tense also includes describing an action that took a longer time than a much shorter or completed action that occurred while the former action was in progress. 

What are examples of past tense and past participle?

There are 4 past tenses: the simple past, the past continuous, the past perfect, and the past perfect continuous. Past particles are the forms of verbs used in perfect tenses which includes the helping verb “had”. In regular verbs, the past form and past participle form are the same. For example:

talk – had talked
laugh – had laughed

For irregular verbs, the past form and the past participle are different and need to be memorized. For example:

eat – had eaten
fly – had flown

Can the word ‘always’ be used in the past tense?

Always is an adverb of frequency that can be considered a time expression. It is used the following tenses: simple present, simple past, simple future, past continuous, present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.

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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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