Grammar – Past continuous


When to use past continuous

We use past continuous to talk about long or repeated events that happened in the past. We usually don’t know if the events were finished or not.

Why were you so angry when I called?

Because I was cooking dinner!

In the second sentence “I was cooking dinner” is a good example of the past continuous. Cooking is a longer action that happened around the person calling.

Here are the main reasons that we use past continuous.

Interruption – Something that stops or interrupts something else. Use past continuous for the action the was interrupted, and past simple for the action that interrupted it,

I was cooking dinner when you called.

Specific time – If we want to talk about what we were doing at a certain time, we can use past continuous if the action wasn’t short. For example.

I was cooking dinner at 8 o’clock.

Things that happened at the same time. – For two long actions that happen at the same time, we can use present continuous,

I was making dinner while she was having a shower.

Giving extra information– Sometimes we use past continuous to give extra information. This happens a lot when we tell a story or talk about the weather.

It was raining a lot when I arrived at the airport.

How to use past continuous

subject + be + verb with ing

I was cooking dinner.

We were playing soccer last night.


subject + be + notverb with ing

He wasn’t watching TV!


be + subject +  + verb with ing

Were you listening?

Verbs that can never be continuous

Some verbs can never be used with the continuous. These are called state verbs. These verbs describe a state, rather than an action.

Most state verbs are verbs that are similar to be (exist, seem), have (own, possess), like/dislike (love, hate) or think and know.

For more information, see this list of state verbs.


Past continuous

small logo