Past Progressive Tense

When to use Past Progressive

Past Progressive describes past actions that were happening at a given time. It can also refer to a longer action in the past that was interrupted by another event. This interruption can be real or just an interruption in time. Use Past Progressive when focus is on the continuity of the action in the past, not the regularity or the result.

  • Past actions in progress at a given point in time
    I was watching TV last night.
    At 2 am, I was still watching this new TV show.
  • Interruption in time or real interruption
    Note that the interrupting event is always in Simple Past.
    Mom was still working as a teacher when I was
    They were training for the race when the accident happened.
  • Parallel actions in time
    I was having a great time while we were playing card games.
    What were you doing while you were standing in line?
    The kids were sitting on the bus and singing songs.
  • Annoyance of repeated actions
    She was always biting her nails while we were talking.
    Why were you always arriving late to class?
    Our neighbor was always complaining about her allergy during spring time.

Structure of Past Progressive

Subject + was / were + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + Object

The Past Progressive Tense puts the progressive aspect in the past. The auxiliary verb expressing progression ‘to be’ needs to be in simple past form agreeing with the subject: ‘was’ or ‘were’. The action verb follows the auxiliary verb in progressive participle as in all progressive tenses.

Some examples:
I was studying when I heard the noise.
Who was driving the car?
They were hiking the same trail as we were.

Do you remember the spelling rules of -ing forms? You can review them here.

Some verbs cannot be used in progressive tenses. Go back to the list for a quick revision.

Take a look at where Simple Past is in the Verb Tenses Table:

Making the Past Progressive Tense negative

To form negative sentences in Past Progressive Tense, simply add ‘not’ to the auxiliary verb ‘was / or were’. The short forms of negative are ‘wasn’t / weren’t’. The action verb in progressive participle stays unchanged. The negative of Past Progressive is formed as follows:

S + wasn’t / weren’t + Ving + O

Remember to use the short version in everyday language and the long version in a formal, written context.

Examples:
I wasn’t hanging out with them last night.
She wasn’t sleeping at 2 am.
The employees weren’t doing a good job.

Yes/no questions in Past Progressive

To form questions, switch the auxiliary verb ‘was/were’ with the subject. For example:

Were you hanging out with them last night?
Was she sleeping at 2 am?
Were the employees doing a good job?

Open-ended questions in Past Progressive

To form open-ended questions, simply put the question word to the beginning of the sentence. The word order folowing the question word remains tha same as in case of yes/no questions. For example:

Where were you going last night?
Who were they talking to on the phone?
What was I thinking?!

Signaling words of Past Progressive

The time of interrupting event or action can be expressed by both an adverb or a clause. The most commonly used clauses are ‘when’ and ‘while’ that express continuity the following way:

They were chatting on Skype when her computer shot down.

While she was taking the kids to the playground, I was getting a haircut.

Common adverbs of Simple Past can also be used with Past Progressive:

Yesterday, last night / week / year, at (2) o’clock, at (5) pm, for … hours, for a long time

For example:
I was writing my thesis for ages.
She was laying on the couch all afternoon.
Were you joining them at the club last night?

 

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