How to form and use the Past Progressive/Continuous?
When you want to talk about past finished actions, you can use the Past Simple tense. That is the most typical past tense in English language. Remember, we use other past tenses only if there is a special reason for their use.
Let’s say that we want to describe some past activity in progress. What tense do we use then? Obviously, we cannot use the Past Simple, so we need another tense. This tense is the Past Progressive.
WHY USE THE PAST PROGRESSIVE?
Like the name itself says, the Past Progressive is used for past actions in progress. It expresses the idea that at a time in the past we were in the middle of some activity. For example, I can say: I was making dinner when I got an idea about a blog post on the Past Progressive. So, that means that I was in the middle of the activity of making dinner when I got the idea.
There are some things you should pay attention to when it comes to the form of the past progressive.
Keep reading and learn MORE TIPS TO IMPROVE your English Grammar.
· The past progressive is the past simple form of the verb be + ing-form of the main verb.
Like every other tense, we can use the past progressive in its positive, negative and interrogative form.
To make a positive sentence in the past progressive we have:
subject + was/were + ing-form of the main verb + the object
I/He/She/It was playing tennis.
You/We/You/They were playing tennis.
To make a negative sentence in the past progressive we have:
subject + was/were + not + ing-form of the main verb + the object
I/He/She/It was not playing tennis.
You/We/You/They were not playing tennis.
We can also contract was not/were not into wasn’t/weren’t.
I wasn’t playing tennis.
To make a question in the past progressive we have:
was/were + the subject + ing-form of the main verb + the object
Was I playing tennis?
Were you playing tennis?
SPELLING FOR THE PAST CONTINUOUS/PAST PROGRESSIVE
For many English learners, spelling can be really tricky. Here are some spelling tips related to doubling the consonants in the ing-form. Note that we double the consonants to show that a vowel is pronounced short.
We double the following letters:
b: rub – rubbing
g: beg - begging
l: travel – travelling
m: swim – swimming
n: win – winning
p: stop – stopping
r: refer – referring
t: sit – sitting
We only double consonants in stressed syllables, as in upset-upsetting; begin-beginning.
We only double consonants when the word ends in one consonant after one vowel letter, as in bet-betting.
In British English, we double -l at the end of a word after one vowel letter, in most cases, even in unstressed syllables, as in travel-travelling.
In American English, words like this are most often spelt with one l: traveling.
Final -c changes to ck before -ing, as in panic-panicking; mimic-mimicking.
Now that I’ve gone through the form of the past progressive, let’s focus on its use and discuss it in more details.
Keep reading about the future tenses:
There are many different uses of the past progressive, so I’m going to mention those that are most common. Here are 5 most general uses of the past progressive:
1. We use the past progressive for an action in the middle of happening at a specific past time, such as the time of the day.
He was playing tennis at ten o’clock.
o An action in the past progressive can also happen around another action.
It was raining when I left the house. – The past progressive is the longer action, while the past simple is the shorter, complete action.
o Do not assume that the progressive occurs only with the dynamic verbs that describe activities. Wrong!
Guess what, you can also use it with verbs that describe a situation or a state. In this case, the progressive refers to a situation or a state that went on for some time.
I was sitting in my office reading one of Jim’s books.
2. We use the past progressive for a past action in progress which was interrupted by another past action.
In this case, we use the past simple for the shorter action or event that happened in the middle of the longer action, or that interrupted it, while the past progressive is used to describe the longer action or situation in the background.
While I was getting dressed, the bell rang.
3. We use the past progressive for two or more simultaneous past actions.
While I was baking a cake, Sarah was watching TV. – The two actions went on at the same time, so we use the past progressive in both clauses.
You can also use the past simple for either or both of the actions.
While I baked a cake, Sarah was watching TV.
While I was baking a cake, Sarah watched TV.
While I baked a cake, Sarah watched TV.
4. We use the past progressive for a background description to events in a story.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon. We walked along the beach. People were lying in the sun. Children were playing volleyball. – The main action is in the past simple, while the situation in the background is in the past progressive.
5. We can use the past progressive when referring to a temporary state (a), for a temporary routine in the past (b), or for a past arrangement (c):
(a) The men were wearing masks.
(b) I was using her office while she was away.
(c) I was on my way to the cinema. I was meeting someone there.
Here are some tips and tricks for the use of the past progressive :) :
· If you would like to sound politer, use the past progressive, as in I was wondering whether you would like to come out with me this evening.
· You can also use the past progressive when introducing a polite request with the verb hope: I was hoping you would like to be my girlfriend.
· With always, continually and similar words, you can use the past progressive for things that happened repeatedly and unexpectedly or in an unplanned way: I didn’t like him at all. He was continually borrowing money from everyone.
· With the progressive aspect, always means ‘very often’: When I was younger, I was always getting into trouble.
· If you want to give more importance to what you say, use the past progressive with verbs of saying: John was saying that he still can’t find a job.