Published 22nd August 2018

The past continuous

The past continuous is formed by using was or were (the past tense of be) with ing attached to the end of the verb. It’s used to explain actions that continued before and after another action. For example, I was watching television when the doorbell rang.

You can help your students to learn the past continuous tense by using video or worksheets to consolidate the work they will do in their coursebooks.

It is also found in a lot in story telling when it is used at the beginning of a text: – Last Thursday I was waiting for the train… or, I heard the shout and saw him running towards the exit.

We also use the past continuous for polite requests. They can be used with stative verbs which makes the request softer. For example – I was hoping you could drop me off at work? Or, I was wondering if I could borrow your car?

Ask questions to illustrate the target:

  • What was she doing when you got home? She was cooking dinner
  • Why didn’t you come to the cinema last night? I was studying for my exam
  • Where were your parents when you got home? They were out shopping

In the negative wasn’t and weren’t is used.

  • He wasn’t swimming he was cycling
  • They weren’t running, they were walking

Tag questions where the answer is expected to be no is written in the past continuous:

  • You weren’t swimming, were you?

Or, when the answer is expected to be yes:

  • You were cycling, weren’t you?

A good way to get your students to practice the past continuous is to ask them to write down a daily schedule. Then you can ask your students to put what they were doing at a certain time. For example, at 1pm I was having lunch.

Once they have done this ask them to swap schedules with another student and then write comparisons like at 1pm I was having lunch, but Carlos was driving home from work.