The past continuous tense expresses action at a particular moment in the past. The action started before that moment but has not finished at that moment.
For example, yesterday I watched a film on TV. The film started at 8pm and finished at 10pm.
I was watching TV at 9 pm yesterday.
Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
At midnight, we were still driving through the desert.
Yesterday at this time, I was sitting at my desk at work.
Past Continuous Tense + Simple Past Tense
We often use the past continuous tense with the simple past tense. We use the past continuous tense to express a long action. And we use the simple past tense to express a short action that happens in the middle of the long action. We can join the two ideas with when or while.
when + short action (simple past tense): the telephone rang
while + long action (past continuous tense): I was sleeping
When the telephone rang, I was sleeping.
While I was sleeping, the telephone rang.
There are 4 basic combinations:
Parallel actions in the past
When you use the Past Continuous with two actions in the same sentence, it expresses the idea that both actions were happening at the same time. The actions are parallel.
WHILE Past Continuous, Past Continuous
Past Continuous WHILE past continuous
I was studying while he was making dinner.
While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching television.
Were you listening while he was talking?
I wasn’t paying attention while I was writing the letter, so I made several mistakes.
What were you doing while you were waiting?
Thomas wasn’t working, and I wasn’t working either.
Be carefull!!! Non- action verbs cannot be used in any continuous tenses. Also, certain non-continuous meanings for Mixed Verbs cannot be used in continuous tenses. Instead of using Past Continuous with these verbs, you must use Simple Past.
Click on the links below to practice.