The following article focuses on forming and using the past continuous tense. For resources on all verb tenses, visit our main verb tenses page.
Forming the Past Continuous Tense (with Tables)
Quick Reference Table: The Past Continuous Tense in All Forms
Ving → Present Participle
Making It Negative
To make the past continuous tense in negative form, use this formula: [was, were] + not + present participle.
Asking a Question
When asking a question in the past continuous tense, use the formula: [was, were] + subject + present participle.
When To Use the Past Continuous Tense
The past continuous is easy to identify in a sentence but can be confusing for ESL speakers when trying to determine when to apply it. The tense has a range of functions that we’ll break down in this section.
When describing a continuing state or action that happened in the past. This is usually used to give a reason or context for something.
Where was he/she? Or Where were they?
How did you meet?
When describing something that was happening continuously in the past, but was interrupted by another action.
When describing something that was happening at a specific time.
This flips the format of Use #2 and makes the past continuous the interrupter in the sentence.
When describing actions happening at the same time in the past.
When describing an atmosphere that existed in the past.
When expressing irritation. Used with “always” or “constantly”
When Not To Use It
It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest pitfalls of using the past continuous tense is using it with a non-continuous verb.