English tenses

Past progressive

The past progressive , also called past continuous, is used to refer to an action that was continuous (i.e. an action that was going on) at a particular time in the past.

This page will present the form and the use of the past continuous (progressive.)

Before you continue the lesson, read the following passage and try to see how the verbs in bold are formed and used.

Yesterday, Liza and Jim played tennis. They began at 10:00 and finished at 11:30.playing tennis

So at 11:00, they were playing tennis.

They were playing="they were in the middle of playing." They had not finished yet.

Was/were playing is the past continuous.

The form of the past continuous:

The past continuous is formed as follows:

to be in the simple past + verb + ing

The affirmative form:

I, he, she, it was playing.
you, we, they were


  • Yesterday evening I was watching a film, when someone knocked on the door.
  • This morning I was revising my lessons when my father came in.
  • Jim and Liza were playing tennis yesterday at 11:00.

The interrogative form:

Was I, he, she, it Playing?
were you, we, they


  • What were you doing yesterday evening?
  • And what was your mother doing?
  • Where were you going, this morning at 7:30?
  • What were Jim and Liza doing?

The negative form:

I, he, she, it was not / wasn't playing.
you, we, they were not / weren't


  • wasn't reading a book yesterday evening; I was watching a film.
  • My mother wasn't preparing dinner; she was working on the computer.
  • We weren't playing cards.

The use of the past continuous:

past progressive

  • We use the past continuous to say that somebody was in the middle of doing something at a certain time in the past.
    "This time yesterday, I was doing my homework."
  • We use the past continuous to say that something happened in the middle of something else:
    "Bob burnt his hand when he was cooking dinner yesterday"
    "While I was working in the garden, I hurt my back."
  • to express a change of mind: e.g. "I was going to spend the day at the beach but I've decided to get my homework done instead."
  • with 'wonder', to make a very polite request: e.g. "I was wondering if you could baby-sit for me tonight.


  • "Wasn't playing" and "weren't playing" are the short forms of "was not playing" and "were not playing"
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