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How does it work? The past continuous

The past continuous tells us what was happening, at the same time as another event, in the past.

When you called me, I was watching television.

It is made up of two events in the past - in this example: "when you called" and "watching television".

The structure of the past continuous is as follows:

Positive Negative Question

I was + verb-ing. I wasn't + verb-ing. Was I + verb-ing?

You were + verb-ing. You weren't + verb-ing. Were you + verb-ing?

He was + verb-ing. He wasn't + verb-ing. Was he + verb-ing?

She was + verb-ing. She wasn't + verb-ing. Was she + verb-ing?

It was + verb-ing. It wasn't + verb-ing. Was it + verb-ing?

We were + verb-ing. We weren't + verb-ing. Were we + verb-ing?

They were + verb-ing. They weren't + verb-ing. Were they + verb-ing?

Looking at this structure with the verb - to listen we see the following:

Most of the time the past continuous is used in a sentence with the past simple.

When you called me, I was watching television.

Called is the past simple form of 'to call' and was watching is the past continuous form of 'to watch'.

We use the past simple to talk about an event in the past. The past continuous is used to say what was happening at the same time as that event, also in the past.

Let's try some examples.

In the following sentences decide which verb should be in the past simple and which in the past continuous:

The phone _________ (ring) while Sam _______ (cook) his dinner.


I _________ (see) my friend while he ________ (shop) in the supermarket.


Someone __________ (ring) the doorbell whilst we ___________ (watch) television.


The teacher just __________ (speak), ______ you __________? (listen)


As they ___________ (eat) their ice-cream, it __________ (start) to rain!


When I ________ (arrive) at the cinema, my friends ______ (wait) for me.


While I _________ (walk) my dog, my friend ________ (drive) past me in her car.


The sun ________ (shine) when my dog and I __________ (walk) to the park this morning.


My friend and I ________ (talk) while we _________ (wait) for our meal.


I _______ (take) a photograph of my friend when she __________ (not / look).


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