Past continuous

This page shows the most common uses of the past continuous in English, together with many examples and links to other resources.

For actions happening at some time in the past

When we want to talk about an action that was happening over a period of time in the past, we use the past continuous. Look at these examples:

  • At this time last week I was lying on the beach in Florida.
  • My mother was working in the garden so she didn't hear the telephone when I called her yesterday.
  • [Passive] I couldn't finish my homework because the computer was being used by my sister.
  • I had my car fixed because it wasn't working properly.
  • Sorry, I wasn't listening. Can you say it again please?
  • What were you doing at 8 o'clock yesterday?
  • Why were you talking to John when I saw you in the cafeteria yesterday?
  • I went to lunch too early. The food was still being cooked. (passive)

For interrupted ongoing actions in the past

The past continuous is very often used with the past simple to say that something happened in the middle of something else. In each of the following examples, the single event (past simple) happens in the middle of a longer action (past continuous).

  • You phoned while I was having a bath.
  • When I got home yesterday, a cat was sitting on the roof.
  • It started to rain just as we were getting ready to have our picnic.
  • The boy was standing on the table when the principal came into the room.
  • Many people were shopping in the market when the bomb exploded.
  • I saw Noriko in town yesterday. She was wearing a pink dress and an orange hat.
  • When I went to bed last night the sun was already beginning to rise.
  • [Passive] The food was still being cooked when I entered the cafeteria.
  • It was lucky we weren't sitting under that tree when the lightning hit.
  • What were you doing when the lights went off last night?
  • Were you watching me when I showed you how to do it?
  • How fast was she driving when she had the accident?

More resources for learning the past continuous

Go to a page with a conjugation of the past continuous in positive statements, negative statements and questions.

There are several interactive quizzes on the past continuous in the Verb grammar: Tenses drop-down menu on the Grammar index.