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Guide to Past Simple and Past Continuous

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The Basics - Past Simple:

There are two principal past tenses used to make general statements about the past: The past simple and the past continuous. The two tenses are quite different. Use the past simple to talk about an event which happened at some point in time in the past.

Tom flew to Chicago last week.
Peter visited his friends in Florida two months ago.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the past simple tense for more help.

The Basics - Past Continuous:

The past continuous is usually used to refer to events happening at the same time that something important happened in the past.

They were doing their homework when she arrived.
Jack was studying while Dave was cooking dinner..

The past continuous is also used to express what was happening at a precise moment in the past.

I was attending a lecture at 2.30 yesterday afternoon.
Alice was reading a book at six yesterday evening.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the past continuous tense for more help.

Past Simple Structure:

Positive

Subject + Verb + ed OR Irregular Past Form + Objects

I, You, He, She, We, They -> played golf yesterday afternoon.
I, You, He, She, We, They -> went lunch at noon.

Negative

Subject + did not (didn't) + Verb + Objects

I, You, He, She, We, They -> didn't go on vacation last summer.

Subject + did not (doesn't) + Verb + Objects

Questions

(Why, What, etc.) + did + Subject + Verb + Objects?

Did -> I, you, we, they -> attend the meeting last week?

Past Continuous Structure:

Positive

Subject + conjugate the helping verb "be" + verb + -ing.

I was, You were, He was, She was, We were, You were, They were -> watching TV when I arrived.

Negative

Subject + conjugate the helping verb "be" + not + verb + -ing.

I wasn't, You weren't, He wasn't, She wasn't, We wasn't, You wasn't, They wasn't -> working when he came into the room.

Questions

Question word + conjugate the helping verb 'be' + subject + verb + -ing

What -> were you, they -> doing at seven o'clock?
What -> was I, he, she -> doing at seven o'clock?

Study the Past Simple and Past Continuous in Depth:

Here are detailed guides to the past simple and the past continuous tenses. Each guide provides situations, common time expressions used with the tense, as well as examples.

These guides were prepared especially for beginners and include dialogues and a short quiz.

Past simple with the verb "to be" for beginners
Past simple with regular and irregular verbs for beginners

It's also important to know your irregular past simple forms which are included in this list of the most important irregular past simple and past participle verb forms

Test Your Knowledge of Past Simple and Past Continuous:

Once you've studied the rules - or if you already know the rules - test your knowledge:

Past Simple Quiz
Present Perfect or Past Simple Quiz
Past Irregular Verbs Quiz

Teach a Lesson about the Past Simple and Past Continuous:

Here are lessons on the site which focus on the past simple or past continuous and their use with other tenses.

Then - Now - integration lesson for upper level students
Time Expressions - past simple and present perfect compared and contrasted.
Integrating Past Continuous - integrating past continuous into writing
Guilty! - communication lesson using a variety of past tenses
Colloborative Learning - college level lesson focusing on using past simple.

Activities with the Past Simple and Past Continuous:

Some activities that will help you practice: Listening

A Trip to London - You will hear a man talking about a trip to Londo.
What exactly happened? - Listen to a woman describing a robbery.
What was in the handbag? - Listen to a woman describing items that were in a handbag that she has lost.

Reading

What Were You Doing? - Use of the past continuous in combination with the past simple.
A Holiday in Italy - Describing a past holiday.

Grammar Tools and Games

Grammar Chant - Regular and Irregular Past Forms
Time Expressions and Tenses
Irregular Verb Practice

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