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Past continuous tense in English

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This chapter will discuss the past continuous tense in English. This tense is used to describe actions starting in the past and are still continuing in the present. 

Structure of past continuous tense in English

The past continuous is formed with the past simple of the auxiliary verb 'to be' and the present participle of the verb.

to be + present participle (infinitive + ing)

Past continuous tense examples:

  • He was working at the supermarket.
  • The sun was shining. 

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How to form the past continuous tense 

How the past continuous tense is formed, depends on whether the sentence is:

  1. Affirmative: expresses the truth of a certain assertion.
  2. Negative: expresses the falsity of a certain assertion. 
  3. Interrogative: expresses a question.

1. Affirmatives

Structure: Subject + 'to be' in the past simple form + present participle (verb + suffix 'ing') + rest of the sentence

SubjectPast form of 'to be'
Iwas
Youwere
He / she /itwas
Wewere
Youwere
Theywere

Examples:

  • I was walking to school.
  • He was cooking a meal for his family.
  • They were drinking beer in a bar.

2. Negatives

Structure: Subject + negative form of 'to be' in the past + present participle (verb + suffix 'ing') + rest of the sentence

SubjectNegative past form of 'to be' 
Iwas not
Youwere not
He / she / itwas not
Wewere not
Youwere not
Theywere not

Examples:

  • She was not working at the office on Friday.
  • We were not having dinner at the restaurant last week.
  • They were not paying attention in class, because they were talking. 

3. Interrogatives

Structure: 'To be' in the past form + subject + present participle (verb + suffix 'ing') + rest of the sentence + question mark

Examples:

  • Were you coming to the party?
  • Was he really traveling through Australia?
  • Were they running to catch the bus?

Usage of the past continuous in English

The table below shows when the past continuous is used in English.

UseExample
To indicate an action that was interrupted by another action
  • I was sleeping when the fire alarm went off.
  • When she arrived, I was reading a book.
To express a change of opinion
  • I was going to the beach, but then it started to rain.
  • She was going to walk to work, but then there was a snow storm. 
Actions that occurred at a specific time in the past
  • They were still having dinner at 11 o'clock last night.
  • They were not living in Valencia in 2016. 
Two actions that were happening at the same time in the past
  • I was reading a book while he was studying.
  • They were having a meeting, discussing their plans and were eating lunch. 

When and while in English

The past continuous tense in English often contains the words 'when' or 'while'. Both of these are used when two or more actions are taking place. 

'When' is used when talking about situations which happened at the moment another action was in progress. 

  • They were reading a book when the doorbell rang.

enlightenedPast simple tense is used after 'when'. 

'While' is used when talking about situations that happen at the same time.

  • I was reading a book while my mother was cooking dinner. 

enlightenedPast continuous tense is used after 'while'.

Train your skills by doing the exercises below!


Exercises

  1. Practice the English past continuous
  2. Fill in the correct form of the English past continuous
  3. Fill in the English past form of 'to be'
  4. Fill in the English past continuous

Practice the English past continuous


Fill in the correct form of the English past continuous


Fill in the English past form of 'to be'


Fill in the English past continuous


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I’m very happy with my teacher! Barbara is so kind, helpful and she has a lot of knowledge to share. She is preparing me for some English exams, it is going quicker and better than I expected. Thank you so much!!!!!!!!
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Thanks so much for the kind words Em! It takes two. You really put your heart and mind to your goal. Very well done. Keep up the good work and you will see the results. See you in class :-)

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My name is Teresa (Teacher Tess), and I live in South Africa

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Elisabetta is a teacher who manages to convey love for her work. It follows you on your path of growth and strongly supports you. He follows different teaching methods according to the needs and priorities of the moment. Punctual, precise and super helpful. That's what I was looking for! Thanks
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Elisabetta . Elisabetta .
Thank you very much dear, I send you a hug :)
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The teacher is always on time and uses perfect learning materials to learn the language. Very prepared in what she teaches and in the way she does it; very useful lessons!
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Alessia T. Alessia T.
Thank you Hilary!

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Serious and professional. Very clear in the explanation and very patient in explaining the uncertainties. Path taken constructive. I am very satisfied.
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Hi Vanessa and thank you for your feedback! I am happy to know that you are satisfied and to witness your progress, class after class. It's a pleasure to work with you!

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After living and working in the UK and Germany for many years, I moved to Spain where I have been living for the past sixteen years. Certified in London, I taught for language schools in Frankfurt and worked freelance in Spain teaching all levels. I try to get my students to talk as much as possible because in my experience there is often so much emphasis on learning all language rules that being able to communicate disappears into the background. Depending on the student´s goal, I adjust my classes so that we can achieve that goal as much as possible!

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Thank you for your feedback Noelle, I will continue to do my very best for you!
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Krystyna K. Krystyna K. UA
Thank you Kelly! The pleasure is mine to work with you :)

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I am Teacher Adan and I want you to speak and write English / Spanish. I have worked as an English teacher for more than 3 years with different groups and ages. I have also taught private classes, prepared students for international certifications and improved speaking in one to one lessons. The vast majority of my students succee when we work together as a team in the journey of learning a foreign language. As a result of my years of preparation and practice, I have got a university degree where I had the chance to teach subjects from my career in my senior year as well. I obtained a couple of certifications of trainings and seminars that I have been invited to and I recently obtained an international teaching certification (TEFL) and the English proficiency certificate in C2 level (advanced).
But let's focus on you and your interest in speaking a new language, I invite you to become part of my multiple students and finally be able to communicate in a different language even if your purpose is either for business, education or just for fun.
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Thank you for your time. I look forward to meeting you!

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After nearly 100 lessons still interesting, lot of fun and many things I learned. I feel able to talk and follow conversations with others. Thanks a lot!
Allison K. Allison K. US

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Hi! My name is Consuelo and I am a professional teacher and translator. I live in Italy with my husband and my son on the East coast south of Ancona
I can help you learn English, Italian, and Spanish.
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Consuelo C. Consuelo C. IT

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She is a kind girl , professional and will give you attention and everything you need . Was a great lesson.
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I am Yora, a self-employed English tutor. I have been working with adults searching for tailor-made English totorials or/and flexible learning schedule since 2013. The lessons I offer are pretty much focussed on good communication and natural learning in a modern way, i.e. with using IT everywhere we can.

My methods

I am a proponent of learner-centred approaches and methods which are non-directive and rely on learners’ intrinsic motivation. They usually learn a foreign language because they need it for their work, study, travel, etc.. At the same time, when they do it in an  enjoyable manner, in accordance with their nature, interests, and style, and with opportunities to choose their activities and learning materials themselves, it is also intrinsically motivated learning.

In professional terms, I try to creatively implement ideas and methods from approaches such as  Direct one, Natural Learning, Democratic Education, and in particular Suggestopedia, Montessori pedagogy, Summerhill and Sudbury Schools.

In practical terms, it may mean providing learner colleagues with choices and often asking them what they want to do, and whether they want to do one or another task. For instance, they can choose whether to use a student's book or not, and if yes, to choose among at least two alternatives. My primary focus is LEARNING, and I encourage the colleagues to be active and increasingly independent learners to the point they can confidently manage their own language learning themselves. Of course, efficient communication and IT are natural components of my tutorials because they are part of life.

So my pillars are:

1. Reliance on the intrinsic motivation (self-driven and self-determined learning); my role is to be learner's guide, to facilitate their learning, and encourage their independence;
2. Good communication;
3. eLearning (IT as inherent component);
4. Creativity and art.

What my students will learn

Firstly, my learner colleagues will achieve their learning goals, be they to cover a relevant student's book material necessary for passing an English level test, or to advance with their language command in areas they want or find necessary for their work, travel, study, etc., in a rather tailor made manner.

Secondly, my  learner colleagues will learn to become more independent English learners. As the language is everywhere nowadays, there are countless accessible learning options, and it is usually a matter of motivation, knowing how to learn, and good self-management to go as far as they need in it

My teaching experience

My English teaching career started in private language centres in Sofia in 2013. I have been working independently as an online English tutor since 2015.. Among my students, there have been from pre-school children (with the youngest one aged four) through teenagers to adults just before retirement. However I have specialized in and feel most comfortable tutoring English to adults. Currently, my online learner colleagues are usually white-collar workers and pink-collar ones investing in their English skills for the sake of their career.

Apart from it, I have been in the field of learning for almost thirty years  starting with my university studies in education, and then focusing on non-formal learning (outside school) and lifelong learning. The latter covers seven years as a professional in staff qualification and career guidance in National Institute for Education in Sofia, as well as fourteen years as an independent expert for the European Commission under their programmes related to education, lifelong learning, youth, and European Citizenship.

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As the first lesson, the teaching strategy was excellent prepared. Also we used a lot of websites to make reading , answering and discussions.
Yordanka A. Yordanka A.

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