Grammar – Past simple or past continuous

Explanation

Before you read this page, read about past continuous and past simple.

Past simple and past continuous are the two most common tenses when we talk about the past. Often, when we tell a story we use both tenses together.

Past simple is used to describe the main action of a story.

They left the church and drove home.

My brother punched me in the nose. It bled a lot.

Past continuous is used to describe background information, things that take a long time or are repeated.

In 2008, I was living in Gisborne.

This sentence would come from the beginning of the story. It is background information, and the rest of the story would probably use past simple.

He was working at a fish factory when the problems started.

In this sentence, ‘He was working‘ is the background information.

We were kicking a ball against a wall.

We kicked the ball against a wall.

In the first sentence, we use past continuous to show that we kicked the ball many times against the wall. The second sentence uses past simple, so it isn’t clear if we kicked the ball many times or just one time.

Quiz

Past continuous or past simple

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