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.

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?


Present Progressive Tense

When to use Present Progressive Tense

Progressive tenses generally refer to only a given moment in time, not a whole period. Whereas Simple tenses usually cover a longer period, expressing repeated events and regularity. In case of progressive tenses, the speaker doesn’t want to express regularity or general facts. The focus is on the action that takes place at that given moment.

These actions are usually unfinished and incomplete. For example, expressing that someone is in the progress of preparing for an exam is done by using the Present Progressive Tense.
She is studying for an exam.

However, when she finished all preparations, knows the material and is ready to take the exam, you will have to use the Present Perfect Tense.
She has studied for an exam.

  • Ongoing actions at a given moment
    Dad’s watching a soccer game in the living room.
    She’s dancing like crazy to this song.
  • Ongoing actions during a given period
    Are you still working out so much?
    I’m traveling in Asia till the summer.
  • For future plans
    She is arriving on Monday from Bali.
    We are joining the advanced group next semester.
  • To express annoyance of a repeated action
    My boyfriend is constantly playing with video games.
    My parents are always arguing with me.

!! Note that some verbs cannot be used in progressive tenses. To review these, check out our overview post about progressive tenses.

Review how Present Progressive compares to other tenses with the help of the following table:

present progressive

Structure of Present Progressive Tense

Subject + conjugated form of ‘to be’ + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + Object

The Present Progressive Tense uses a compound verb that consists of the conjugated form of ‘to be’ and the progressive participle of the main verb. Note that ‘to be’ is the auxiliary verb in this tense that needs to be in correct form to agree with the subject. The action verb gets an -ing ending the following way:

  • If the verb ends in an ‘e’, drop the ‘e’ and add the -ing
    E.g. live → living
    have → having
    give → giving
  • If the one-syllable verb ends in a consonant + vowel + consonant, double the last letter and add -ing. However, there is no need to double the last letter if the verb ends in ‘w’, ‘x’ or ‘y’ because the emphasis is not on the final consonant.
    E.g. get → getting
    step → stepping
    knit → knitting
  • If the verb ends in ‘ie’, change the ending to ‘ying’.
    E.g. lie → lying
    die → dying
  • If the verb ends in a vowel + ‘r’ and the stress in on the last vowel, the ‘r’ is usually doubled.
    E.g. refer → referring
    prefer → preferring


Making the Present Progressive Tense negative

In the English language, negative forms of verbs are usually formed by an auxiliary verb and ‘not’. For example: She may not go out tonight. In the Present Progressive Tense, the verb ‘to be’ serves as an auxiliary verb, therefore, ‘not’ is added to ‘to be’. The negative of Present Progressive Tense is formed as follows:

Subject + conjugated form of ‘to be’ + not + Progressive Participle of Main Verb

‘To be’ and ‘not’ can be combined in informal language to a short form the following way:
is not → isn’t
are not → aren’t

Notice that there is no short negative form of ‘I am’. The correct form is ‘I’m not’. Remember to use the short form only in an informal environment. In a formal written context, always use the full form.

We aren’t making fun of you.
She isn’t joining us at the party.
I’m not dating anyone at the moment.

Yes/No questions in Present Progressive Tense

In the English language, questions are usually formed by switching the (first) auxiliary verb and the subject. For example:

She can speak English. → Can she speak English?

In Present Progressive Tense, the conjugated form of ‘to be’ is switched with the subject to form a question, followed by the -ing form of the verb.  For example:

I’m coming to the movies. → Are you coming to the movies?
Dad isn’t driving me to school this morning. → Isn’t dad driving you to school this morning?

Open-ended questions in Present Progressive Tense

In case of open-ended questions, always start with the questions word. After the questions word, follow the usual word order for questions: auxiliary verb – subject – main verb – object -etc. The auxiliary verb in Present Progressive is am/is/are, followed by the subject and the progressive participle (-ing form) of the action verb. For example,

Kate’s having an avocado toast for breakfast today. → What is she having for breakfast today?
Mom is cooking goulash for lunch. –> What is mom cooking for lunch? Who is cooking goulash for lunch? What is mom cooking goulash for?

Typical adverbs of Present Progressive Tense

today, at present, at the moment, still, now, right now, this morning / this evening etc., nowadays, these days

Some examples:

I’m having pizza for lunch today.
I’m craving pizza at the moment.
I’m still thinking about that pizza we had last night.
I’m going to this new pizzeria now.
I’m meeting my friends for pizza this evening.
I’m not eating much pizza these days.

Overview of Progressive Tenses

What is the progressive aspect

The progressive aspect allows the speaker to express an action that is unfinished or in progress. They generally refer to an action in a given moment, not regularity. The aim of the speaker is to refer to an action that is ongoing at a given moment. It can also be used to describe an action withing a given time frame.

For example:
She is playing with her phone during the break.
The professor was explaining the solution when the bell rang.
I was walking home when it started raining.

How to use the progressive aspect

If you have decided to use progressive aspect, the next step is to decide which tense to put the verb into. The progressive aspect can be used in all three tenses: present, past and future. In each tense, you must use the auxiliary verb of Progressive Tenses in the correct tense.

General structure of Progressive Tenses

S + conjugated form of ‘to be’ + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + O

Progressive Tenses use ‘to be’ as an auxiliary verb that must be followed by the progressive participle of the main verb. Remember that ‘to be’ needs to agree with the subject at all times. Note that ‘to be’ is always followed by the -progressive participle of the main verb in progressive tenses to express continuity. You may see ‘to be’ followed by the past participle of the verb which is used in Passive Voice that is not a tense.

Take a look at the highlighted area to see the correct form of progressive verbs in each tense:


For a detailed explanation and usage, check out the individual page of each Progressive Tense here:
Present Progressive
Past Progressive
Future Progressive

Verbs that are usually not used in Progressive Tenses
(Non-continuous Verbs)

Some verbs that express states and not actions or processes cannot be used in Progressive Tenses. The easiest way to decide if you can use a verb in progressive form is to ask yourself if you can see somebody doing it. If you cannot see someone doing it, stick to Simple Tenses. The verbs usually express something abstract such as emotions, opinion or possession.

  • Senses / Perception: to feel, to hear, to see, to smell, to taste
  • Opinions / beliefs: to assume, to believe, to consider, to doubt, to feel (=to think), to find (=to consider), to suppose, to think*
    *‘To think’ cannot be used in a progressive tense if it expresses opinion. However, if it expresses the action of someone thinking about something without any result, it can be used in Progressive Tenses.
  • Mental states: to forget, to imagine, to know, to mean, to notice, to recognize, to remember, to understand
  • Emotions: to envy, to fear, to dislike, to hate, to hope, to like, to love, to mind, to prefer, to regret, to want, to wish
  • Measurement: to contain, to cost, to hold, to measure, to weigh
  • Others: to look (=to resemble), to seem, to be (in most cases), to have (=to own)

Some verbs have a different meaning in Progressive and Simple Tenses. Make sure to note these when forming sentences or translating them.

  • This massage feels nice. → perception of the massage’s quality
  • Franz is feeling sick from the salad. → his health is currently affected by the salad
  • My neighbor has 20 cats. → expressing ownership
  • I’m having a great time with you. → being entertained, feeling good
  • You can’t see the London Eye from here. → perception
  • I’m seeing my mom later during the week. → planning on meeting

Overview of English Verb Tenses


Learning verb tenses is always the tricky part of learning a language. Especially, when a language has 12 of them. It might sound scary at first but once you understand the logic behind why there are so many in the English language, you’ll be able to use them with confidence. In this post, I’ll give you a general overview on tenses that you can use as guidence before you dive into each tense one by one. Take a look at the following chart with all the tenses:

Verb Tenses Chart
12 English Verb Tenses

*S refers to subject as the performer of the action
E.g. If we examine the following sentence: ‘Mary makes a coffee.’ → Mary is the subject.
*O refers to the object on which the action is performed
E.g. In the above-mentioned sentence the coffee is the object.

Verb Tenses

In the English language, tenses are categorized according to two characteristics: tense and aspect as you can see it in the table above. Understanding tenses is more intuitive as there are past, present and future tenses, depending where the action takes place in time compared to our present.

Verb Aspect

The aspect is a bit more complicated. We differentiate three aspects: simple, progressive and perfect. Each tense has a simple, a progressive, a perfect progressive and a perfect version, adding up to 12 tenses. However, it is enough to understand the logic behind the aspects and you will know when to use them. Each aspect follows the same structure in all tenses, therefore, you will only need to learn the logic behind the structure of each aspect and you will be able to put it in past, present of future forms.

Don’t confuse tenses with clauses

In the table above, you can find all tenses in each aspect. Note that each of these tenses can be used in different clauses such as conditional and passive voice so do not confuse the two. I encourage you to check out the overview pages of each aspect before jumping into the tenses so that you will have a general understanding of the structure. Always use a verb tenses chart for guidance.

Useful abbreviations in verb structures

Most verb tenses in the English language consist of an auxuliary verb (helping verb) and a main verb, meaning that there are auxiliary verbs assisting the action verb to express the right time and aspect. At the beginning of each page, you will find a clear guideline how to form the structure in that specific tense. I will be using the following abbreviations for different verb forms:

  • Bare infinitive: Bare infinitive is the infinitive form of the  You form the first form of the verb by dropping the ‘to’ from the infinitive form.
    For example: to make → make
    to play → play
  • Simple Past: The second form of the verb is the past form or -ed form. Note that there are many irregular verbs in the English language. You can find an extensive list here.
  • Past Participle: The third form of the verb is the Past Participle. It is formed by adding -ed to the end of the verb. However, the irregular verbs have irregular Past Participle forms, as well, that you can learn along with the second forms. The third form usually follows the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ in Perfect Tenses.
  • Progressive Participle: The -ing form of the verb is created by adding -ing to the end of the verb. There are some irregularities in spelling that you can find here. The -ing form is generally used in Progressive Tenses and it is follows the auxiliary verb ‘to be’.

Always keep in mind

There are some general rules in English structures that can help you get the right form:

  • ‘Have’ as an auxiliary verb is always followed by the perfect participle of the verb.
    For example: I have been dreaming about a chocolate cake for so long.
  • ‘To be’ in progressive tenses is always followed by the progressive participe of the verb. If it is followed by the perfect participle, it refers to Passive Voice which is not a verb tense.
    For example: Bob was lying to me the whole time. → progressive
    I was being lied to the whole time. → Passive Voice
  • When you got the correct structure of the chosen aspect right, it is always the first auxiliary verb that needs to be put in the chosen tense.
    For example: ‘to be going to the movies’ →  She was going to the movies.
  • The first auxiliary verb of the tense must always agree with the subject. The form of all other auxiliary or action verbs will be determined by the auxiliary verb standing in front of them.
    For example: She has been knitting this sweater for months. → Here, the form of ‘to have’ must agree with she or third person singular.