UNIT 6. Past Continuous (I was doing)

English-grammar-6 grammar


Yesterday Karen and Jim played tennis.
They began at 10:00 and finished at 11:30.
So, at 10:30 they were playing tennis.

They were playing = they were in the middle of playing.
They had not finished playing.

Was / were -ing is the past continuous:


I was doing something = I was in the middle of doing something at a certain time.
The action or situation had already started before this time, but had not finished:

past  | <-  I started doing
      | <-
      | <- I was doing
      | <-
past  | <- I finished doing
now   |

This time last year I was living in Brazil.
What were you doing at 10:00 last night?
I waved to Helen, but she wasn’t looking.


Compare the past continuous(I was doing) and simple past(I did):

Past continuous(in the middle of an action)

I was walking home when I met Dave.
Kate was watching television when we arrived.

Simple past(complete action)

I walked home after the party last night.
Kate watched television a lot when she was sick last year.


We often use the simple past and the past continuous together to say that something happened in the middle of something else:

Matt burned his hand while he was cooking dinner.
It was raining when I got up.
I saw you in the park yesterday. You were sitting on the grass and reading a book.
I hurt my back while I was working in the garden.

But we use the simple past to say that one thing happened after another:

I was walking downtown when I saw Dave. So I stopped, and we talked for a while.


When Karen arrived, we were having dinner.
(= We had already started before she arrived)

When Karen arrived, we had dinner.
(= Karen arrived, and then we had dinner together)


Some verbs (for example, know and want) are not normally used in the continuous:

We were good friends. We know each other well. (not We were knowing)
I was having a good time at the party, but Chris wanted to go home. (not was wanting)