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Past Continuous Tense

Updated on
December 16, 2020

The past continuous tense, also known as the past progressive tense, refers to a continuing action or state that was happening at some point in the past. The past continuous tense is formed by combining the past tense of to be (i.e., was/were) with the verb’s present participle (-ing word).

There are many situations in which this verb tense might be used in a sentence. For example, it is often used to describe conditions that existed in the past.

The sun was shining every day that summer.
As I spoke, the children were laughing at my cleverness.
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It can also be used to describe something that was happening continuously in the past when another action interrupted it.

The audience was applauding until he fell off the stage.
I was making dinner when she arrived.

The past continuous can shed light on what was happening at a precise time in the past.

At 6 o’clock, I was eating dinner.

It can also refer to a habitual action in the past.

She was talking constantly in class in those days.

One final caution: Though the irregularities are few, not every verb is suited to describing a continuous action. Certain verbs can’t be used in the past continuous tense. One common example is the verb to arrive.

At noon, he was arriving.

At noon, he arrived .

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