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How to Use the Past Continuous Verb Tense for English

Updated: Jan 10, 2022


The Past Continuous Tense is used to describe actions or events having an on-going nature. These are the events or actions which began in the past and are still going on at the time of speaking. To put it simply, this tense expresses an unfinished or incomplete action in the past.


  • Jane was waiting for the train when the accident happened.

  • Cassie was riding the bike when she broke her leg.

  1. The general structure of the past continuous tense is as below

Subject + auxiliary be + main verb

  1. The auxiliary verb (be) is conjugated in the Past Simple-was, were

  2. The main verb is invariable in present participle form: -ing

  3. In case of negative sentences, we insert ‘not’ between the auxiliary verb and the main verb while forming Past Continuous Tense.

  4. For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the auxiliary verb while forming Past Continuous Tense.

Sentence patterns for Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous of any verb is generally composed of 2 parts-

  • The past tense of the verb "to be" (was/were)

  • The base of the main verb +ing.

Subject was/were base + ing

Affirmative Sentence


Subject was/were base + ing

She was playing

Negative Sentences


Subject wasn’t /weren’t base + ing

She wasn’t playing

Interrogative Sentences


Was/ were Subject base + ing

Was she playing?

a) It is used to describe the background in a story written in the past tense


The sun was shining and the birds were chirping as the lion came out of the jungle.

b) It is used to describe an unfinished action that was interrupted by another event or action


Joe was having dinner when the doorbell rang

c) It is used to express a change of mind


I was going to spend the day at the beach but I've decided to watch a movie instead

d) It is used with 'wonder', to make a very polite request


I was wondering if you could finish the task for me today

e) It is used for something that happened before and after a particular time


It was eight o’clock. I was writing a letter.

  1. It is used to show that something continued for some time


My head was aching.

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