In English grammar, there are three main tenses i.e. past tense, present tense, and future tense. They are usually used to denote a particular time of occurrence of activity with reference to the time of speaking. In short, tenses indicate the continuation or completion of a particular action.
However, in English, each tense further takes four different aspects within themselves. For instance, the past tense has simple past tense, past continuous tense, past perfect tense, and past perfect continuous tense. In this post, we will cover the second aspect of past tense, the past continuous tense, and learn how they function.
In a general sense, the past continuous tense denotes an action that took place in the past and was still ongoing at some point in time. There are several uses of this tense and rules that we need to keep in mind.
What is past continuous tense?
By definition, the past continuous tense is an aspect of the past tense that denotes an action that was happening at some point in the past. It indicates that the activity started in the past and was still in the process when a different event occurred.
In simple words, the past continuous tense refers to actions that began in the past, before the present time, and was still continuing or happening at that moment in the past. This tense is, therefore, also known as the past progressive tense. We simply use them to express what we were in the middle of doing at a point in the past.
The formula or the structure of past continuous sentences consists of two important things. One is the past tense form of the verb to be, and the other is the root form of the main verb with a present participle.
So, past continuous tense is formed by using the verb to be conjugated in the past form, was/were. And then, the main verb in its root form with the addition of –ing follows. This shows something was continuous.
Now, let us look at some examples.
- She was writing her homework.
- They were watching TV when we arrived.
- I was writing my notes in the class
- He was eating dinner when you called.
Likewise, this tense can also be used to form negative sentences and also question sentences.
To form a negative sentence, we simply add the negation not after the verb to be and before the present participle.
- He was not eating properly.
- They weren’t watching anything.
And for a question sentence, we need to change the position and place the verb to be at the beginning. After that, the usual structure with the present participle follows.
- Was he reading when you were there?
- Weren’t they swimming?
Some of the common uses of past continuous tense are
- To express a longer action that was interrupted in the past.
- To describe a continuous activity happening at a time in the past.
- And commonly, it is used to add a description in stories.
So, we have past continuous tense that describes a continuing action in the past. While it is easy to understand, careless usage can cause mistakes.