The past continuous is used to talk about what was happening at a precise moment in the past. It is often used together with the past simple to express what was happening when something important occurred.
Past Continuous Positive Form Review
Subject + to be (was, were) + present participle (ing form of verb) + objects
Jane was typing the letter when he walked into the room.
They're were discussing the problem at 11.
Past Continuous Negative Form
Subject + to be (was, were) + not + verb + objects
Jack wasn't watching TV. He was cooking dinner.
We weren't wasting time! We were working hard.
Past Continuous Question Form
(Question Word) + to be (was, were) + subject + present participle (ing form of verb)?
What were you doing at seven o'clock?
Was Jennifer paying attention during the meeting?
The past continuous, and continuous forms in general, are used with action verbs such as talk, drive, play, etc. The continuous form is not used with stative verbs such as 'be', 'seem', 'taste', etc. Some stative verbs can be used as action verbs so there are some exceptions. For example: 'smell' - It smelled good. (stative verb) / He was smelling the roses when she walked by the window. (action verb)
He seemed very sad.
It tasted very bitter.
Jack didn't appear to be concerned.
Time Expressions with Past Continuous for Past Action at a Specific Moment in the Past
At / At that Moment
'At' and 'at that moment' refer to a specific point of time in the past. These two expressions are often used with the past continuous. It is more common to use the past simple to speak in general, but if you want to express what was happening at a precise moment of time in the past, use the past continuous.
She was having breakfast at 6.45 this morning.
We were working on his request at 10 pm.
Alan wasn't meeting with Tom at 9. He was meeting with Dennis.
When / As
'When' is used with the past simple to express an important event that occurred in the past. The past continuous is used to express what was happening at that moment.
They were getting ready when he came home.
Alice wasn't thinking when she said that.
What were you doing when he asked the question?
'While' is used with the past continuous to express something that was happening at the same moment in time that something else was occurring.
'During' is used with a noun or a noun phrase to express an event during which something was happening.
I was typing while he was dictating.
She wasn't paying attention during the meeting.
Jackson was working while she was having a good time.
Past Continuous Worksheet 1
Conjugate the verb in parentheses in the past continuous tense. In the case of questions, use the indicated subject as well.
- What _____ (you do) when he arrived?
- She _____ (watch) TV at two o'clock.
- They _____ (not sleep) at five o'clock.
- Peter _____ (work) when I telephoned.
- Tim _____ (study) German while they were studying French.
- I _____ (not pay attention) during the presentation.
- _____ (Brian talk) during the lesson?
- We _____ (not cook) when he walked in the door.
- Jason _____ (play) the piano at three o'clock yesterday afternoon.
- When _____ (Howard give) the presentation exactly?
- Andrea _____ (not expect) you to arrive so early!
- What _____ (you think) when you said that?!
- _____ (she do) the housework when you telephoned?
- Carlos _____ (drink) tea when I walked into the room.
- They _____ (meet) with Smith and Co at exactly 2.35 pm.
- My cousin _____ (not have) a good time when I arrived.
- They _____ (discuss) the issue when she telephoned.
- _____ (they work) in the garden when you arrived?
- She _____ (sleep) so he entered the room softly.
- They _____ (not take) notes during the presentation, but paying attention to every word.
Past Continuous Worksheet 2
Choose the correct time expression used with the past continuous tense.
- What were you doing (while / during) the meeting?
- Tim was finishing the report (in / at) five o'clock.
- They were discussing the problem (when / at) I walked into the room.
- Jackson wasn't listening (while / during) he was explaining the situation.
- Was Alice paying attention (while / during) the presentation?
- They were having a quiet breakfast (this / at) morning when he arrived.
- What were they doing (when / in) that happened?
- Sheila was playing the piano (while / during) he was working on the computer.
- I was working at the computer (at / on) seven o'clock this morning.
- Alex wasn't playing golf (this / at) morning. He was working.
- What were they doing (in / at) four o'clock?
- She was working quietly (when / for) he opened the door.
- Peter wasn't doing the housework (that / yesterday) morning. He was working in the garden.
- Where were they sleeping (at / when) he got home last night?
- Jason was thinking about the problem (when / at) he asked for an answer.
- Our teacher was explaining math (from / when) he burst into the room with the news.
- Dilbert was working at the computer (on / at) four o'clock this morning!
- Were they listening (as / at) he asked the question?
- She wasn't working (when / in) he came into the office.
- They weren't thinking about that (at / when) they made the decision.
Check your answers on the next page.