Welcome to this class on the past continuous tense, which is also called the past progressive
Now, this class is part of the series created by EngVid to help you learn and start using
all of the English verb tenses one by one.
So, the past continuous tense is used quite often in English, so let's understand exactly
when to use it and how to use it.
Are you ready?
So, when we want to talk about the past in English, there are two basic tenses: the past
simple and the past continuous.
An example of the past simple is "I worked".
An example of past continuous is "I was working".
So, let's understand the difference.
When we use the past simple, we are referring to something that happened at a specific point
in time, okay?
It happened at a specific point in time in the past.
When we use past continuous, we're talking about something that continued during a period
in the past, okay?
Here, we're just talking about the one action, here, we're talking about the action that
continued, how long it continued, and we want to emphasize that, okay?
Let's look at an example here with our timeline.
So, let's say this is our timeline.
This is now, and it's 8:00pm.
It's 8:00 in the evening, alright?
And let's say that in the past, before this, you were working, okay?
So, let's say you started work - let's say, you could say "I started work at 9:00am."
Started - I started, past simple.
"I finished work at 5:00pm.", again, past simple, because these are points, right?
9:00am is a point, 5:00pm is a point.
I started, I finished, that's past simple.
But, if you want to talk about this period from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and you want to emphasize
that it went on for some time, then you would say "I was working from 9:00am to 5:00pm.",
and this "I was working" is the past continuous, alright?
That's the basic explanation of it.
Now, let's look at how we form it.
So, we would use the subject + the past tense of the verb "to be" as the helping verb, then
a verb + -ing.
For example, we would say: I was working.
He was working.
She was working.
It was working.
Then it changes a little bit, see here?
You were working.
We were working, and They were working.
So, that's your basic overview of the past continuous tense.
Now, let's look at when we can use the past continuous tense.
So, we can use it to talk about an action that was continuing during a period of time.
For example: Sarah was studying all day.
What's the period of time here in this sentence?
And where's our past continuous?
Here: "was studying", okay?
Next, we can also use this tense to talk about an action that was continuing during a particular
moment in the past.
For example: At 11:00pm, I was sleeping.
What's the moment in the past?
Where is our past continuous?
So, when would you say something like that?
Well, let's suppose somebody said "Oh, I tried to call you last night, but you didn't answer."
And you say, "What time?" and they said "Oh, around 11:00."
And you say "Oh, at 11:00pm, I was sleeping."
Next, we can also use it to talk about an action that was continuing when it was interrupted
by another action.
For example: They were having dinner when we arrived.
Now, this is an interesting sentence because it actually has two past tenses.
It has the past continuous: were having, right?
This was continuing, they were having dinner, having and having and having dinner when we
So, this part here is that past simple.
So, this action was continuing and then something happened in the middle, but when you want
to show that that something happened, you want to show what was going on at that time,
we use our past continuous.
They were having dinner when we arrived.
So, those are the three basic ways in which we use this tense.
But, there are a couple of advanced ways.
Let me just explain to you what they are.
So, we can also use it sometimes to talk about an action that was planned.
For example: I was planning to call John, okay?
I was thinking about it, I was planning to call John, but I didn't have time.
So, that means that, at some time in the past, you were thinking about that.
You were planning that, so that's where we use that past continuous: I was planning to
call John, but I didn't have time.
I didn't have time is, once again, our past simple, because that's just at a particular
point, but the planning or the thinking continued and was continuing and therefore we're using
You could also use this tense sometimes for a polite request with a particular expression
that we use in English to make a polite request, and that expression is this one: I was wondering
if you could help me.
When we say, "I was wondering", that is past continuous, alright, here, but it's just an
expression that we use and it means, really, you know, "Can you help me?
Could you help me?", but it's a very polite way of saying "I was wondering if you could
That means I was thinking about this, if you could help me, alright?
So, these are the basic ways in which we can use this tense.
Now, let's look at when not to use the past continuous tense.
So, in English, we have two kinds of verbs: action verbs and stative verbs.
Action verbs are verbs like work, study, run, cook, clean, okay?
And stative verbs describe some kind of state or condition.
It could be a mental state, an emotional state, or something else.
Let's look at some examples.
Now, what's important is that with these stative verbs, with many of the stative verbs, we
cannot use them with this continuous tense or any of the continuous tenses.
Let's look at an example.
It is wrong to say: I was knowing him for many years.
Because "know" is a stative verb which we cannot use in this way.
So, this is wrong.
It is wrong to say, "Susan was hating spiders.", because "hate" is one of those emotional stative
verbs, and we cannot use it in the continuous form.
It is also wrong to use a verb which describes ownership or possession or something that
For example, it's wrong to say, "They were owning a big house.".
We cannot say that, okay?
Also, these two very common verbs, it's incorrect to use them in the continuous form.
"We were wanting to call you.", nope, we can't say that.
"She was needing to catch her flight.", no, that's wrong, we cannot say that correctly,
Now, let's just go back for a second and look at these.
So, in this case, what would we use instead?
We would have to just use the past simple.
For example, we would say here: I knew him for many years.
She hated spiders.
They owned a big house.
We wanted to call you.
She needed to catch her flight.
Those are all examples of past simple.
We cannot use these continuous forms here with the stative verbs.
There is one verb which is very interesting and very common which you should be aware
of, and that's the verb "to have".
Now, "to have", sometimes has a stative meaning and sometimes it has a more dynamic meaning,
or action meaning.
So, when it has a stative meeting, we cannot use it in this tense or in any continuous
tense, but when it has the other meaning, then we can.
Let's look at one example.
It is wrong to say, "He was having a computer".
No, we would have to say, "He had a computer.", right?
But you could talk about something like this: He was having a party.
He was having a good time.
He was having fun.
This is okay.
So, you have to pay attention to that verb "to have", but what's the general take away
Don't use stative verbs with this tense.
Now, let's look at the structure of the past continuous tense.
So, we will look at it in a positive sentence, a negative sentence, and a question.
So, in the positive sentence, the basic way we form this tense is we take the subject
+ the verb "to be" in the past tense, which is going to be "was" or "were" + the verb
Let's look at how that works, okay?
So, I, He, She, or It, we would say "was working".
I was working.
You can repeat it after me so you start to get used to it.
I was working yesterday.
He was working.
She was working.
It was working.
And here, we have to change the verb "to be", so we say: You were working.
We were working.
They were working.
So, it's not only important to remember this verb +ing, the "working" part, which is not
too difficult, but this part is also very important.
Make sure you're using the correct form of that past tense of the verb "to be" with this
Because if you make a mistake here, then you'll make a mistake in the entire tense, so be
careful of that.
It is here: was, and here it is: were, okay?
So, let's pay attention to that.
Next, if it's a negative sentence, it's very easy, we're just adding "not", okay?
There is a way that we can shorten this and we will look at that soon, but for now, all
we're doing is we're saying this and we're adding "not".
For example: I was not working.
He was not working.
She was not working.
It was not working.
Or: You were not working.
We were not working.
They were not working.
Next, to form a question, we have to change the order.
So, instead of saying "I was", we say "Was I?".
Instead of "He was", "Was he?", that's it.
So, for example, "Was I working yesterday?
I don't remember."
Was he working?
Was she working when you arrived?
Was it working the last time you used it?
Were you working?
Were we working?
Were they working?
So, that's the structure of the question.
Now remember that if you need to add a question word, you can do that.
What do I mean by a question word?
For example, you could say "Where was he working?", okay?
So, if you need to add that question word like, who, what, when, where, why, how often,
how long, and so on, then you can do that, just put it here before this, but keep this
Just put it before the "was", okay?
And then, of course, you will not capitalize this word "was".
So: Where was he working?
How long was he working?
And so on, that's it.
And this is the basic structure of the past continuous tense.
Now, let's look at how we use contractions with the past continuous tense.
So, contractions are when we shorten or contract two or three words into one word.
We're going to see how to do that in just a second.
The important thing for you to remember is that in this tense, if it's a positive sentence,
we cannot make any contractions, but if it's negative, we definitely can.
So, let's see how to do that.
So, these are the possible negative contractions.
If you wanted to say, "I was not", it becomes "wasn't".
I wasn't, alright?
So, what happened here?
How did we get this?
We basically took these two words, we cancelled the "o", we added an apostrophe in the place
where we took out the letter and we joined these two words together.
So, "was not" became "wasn't", and "were not", the other possibility, we do the same thing,
we take out the "o", add the apostrophe, and then "were not" becomes what?
Now, there are two things to remember about these contractions.
The first is how to spell them.
The second is how to pronounce them.
So, we're going to practice both in this section of the lesson.
So, when would we use which one?
You've already gone over that a little bit, so just repeat after me right now and try
to make sure you're pronouncing all of this word clearly, because if you are trying to
say "I wasn't watching", but you don't say the ending "tuh", then it'll sound like "I
was watching", and that's the opposite meaning, right?
So, repeat after me: I wasn't watching.
He wasn't watching.
She wasn't watching.
It wasn't watching.
Now, for the second part, okay?
A different word, different form of the verb "to be": You weren't sleeping.
Make sure you're saying that "tuh".
You weren't sleeping.
We weren't sleeping.
They weren't sleeping.
And that's basically it in terms of making the contractions.
Now, let's look at some of the spelling changes we need to make in the main verb when using
So, for most verbs, all we have to do is to add -ing.
For example: talk becomes talking.
Sell - selling.
With some verbs, you have to do something a little bit different.
For example, for verbs ending in "e", we have to drop the "e" and add "-ing".
We're always going to be adding -ing for all the verbs, but sometimes you have to make
some changes before that.
For example, for those verbs ending in "e", like "make" becomes "making", because we're
dropping the "e", right?
Take becomes taking without the "e".
Next, for verbs ending in "ie", we have to drop the "ie" and add "y" and then the "-ing".
For example: tie becomes tying, alright?
We added "y" and "-ing".
Lie, get rid of "ie", add the "y" and "-ing", lying.
Tie - tying, lie - lying, alright?
And for some verbs that end with a pattern called C-V-C.
C-V-C stands for consonant, vowel, consonant.
A vowel in English is A, E, I, O, and U, and a consonant is every other letter.
So, for some verbs that follow this pattern that end like this, we have to double the
For example, what you need to do is to look at this word from the end, because not every
word will have only three letters, but always look at the word from the end, okay?
C-V-C, and if it follows that pattern, then double the last letter and then add "-ing".
For example: Jog becomes jogging.
What does it mean to jog?
To like, run for exercise.
Sit becomes sitting.
So, these are some of the main spelling changes you need to make in this tense for the verbs.
In English, when someone asks you a question, we don't usually just say "Yes" or "No", because
it sounds a little bit impolite.
We can be a little bit more polite than that, and I'm going to show you how.
But also in English, when someone asks you a question, you don't have to give a very
long answer if, basically, your information is "yes" or "no".
So, I'm going to show you how to give short answers that allow you to answer in a very
polite way and an easy way.
So, for example, in this tense, if someone said "Was he playing video games?", then you
could just say "Yes, he was.", if it's a positive answer, or "No, he wasn't.".
And how do you know that pattern?
Well, in this case, all we had to do was take the "was" from the question and use it in
our answer, okay?
Now, as you can see in the positive answer, you cannot use any contraction because there
isn't one, but in the negative one, the negative answer, yes, do use the contraction, especially
in informal conversation where we use these kind of questions and answers, okay?
So, just take your answer from the question itself.
Let's take another example.
"Were they studying for the test?"
So, you could say again, take your answer from here: "Yes, they were.", or "No, they
Make sure you you're saying "weren't", "wasn't", okay?
Make sure you're saying that ending, otherwise the meaning changes, alright?
Now, the only one that's different, the only exception is for questions about you.
So, if someone says, "Were you managing a team?"
Let's suppose you go for an interview, right?
They're asking you many different kinds of questions about your previous jobs, and they
ask you "Were you managing a team?".
So then, of course, you cannot say "were", your answer will be "Yes, I was.", or "No,
And because you are you and a lot of people are going to ask you questions about you,
it's good for you to memorize these, okay?
Were you doing this?
Yes, I was.
No, I wasn't.
Yes, I was.
No, I wasn't.
So, know these answers for yourself but for anyone else, you can take the answer from
the question itself.
So, were you paying attention to this lesson?
I hope you said "Yes, I was."
Now, let's practice what you've been learning.
So, what we'll do first is we will take some sentences which, right now, are in the present
continuous, and we're going to change them to the past continuous.
For example: I am learning.
How would you say that in the past continuous, which we've been learning?
What would it become?
"I am" becomes "I was learning.", okay?
I was learning.
We are waiting.
What does that become?
We were waiting, okay?
He is singing, in the present, becomes what in the past?
In the past continuous, we say "He was singing.", okay?
Now, for these, these are already in the past continuous, but we're going to - right now,
they're positive sentences.
We're going to change them into negative sentences.
So, let's start with the first one: Ruby was teaching.
How would we make it negative?
It would be "was", what's the key word?
"not" teaching, okay?
Ruby was not teaching.
Number five: Simon was winning.
Make it negative and this time, we'll try to make a contraction.
Simon - yes - wasn't winning.
Simon wasn't winning.
We were driving.
Make it negative and a contraction.
We weren't, okay, pay attention to the spelling also, we weren't driving, okay.
Let's look at number seven.
Now, we're going to make a question.
Right now, it's a sentence: Steven was going to the conference.
So, I want you to help me make a question starting with the question word "where".
Steven was going to the conference.
Where was Steven going?
And number eight, same thing: She was doing her homework.
What does that become?
Let's start the question with the word "what".
What was she doing?
Because what are we doing with the questions?
We're changing that order.
She was - was she?
Steven was - was Steven?
So, you've done a lot of practice, very good!
Now, let's look at some common mistakes that are made with this tense, and you can help
me correct them.
So, sometimes the wrong tense is used.
For example, this student wrote "I am studying when you called."
So, what should it be?
"I am studying" is the present continuous, but that's not what we need, we need the past
continuous, so this one should be "I was".
I was studying, right?
I was studying when you called.
Sometimes, the mistake is with the verb "to be".
For example, this person wrote "We was relaxing."
They got this part right, but is this right?
What's the correct form?
We should say "We were relaxing.", okay?
Sometimes, there are spelling mistakes.
For example: "She was bakeing a cake."
Do remember what we do when we have a verb which is like this: bake, it ends with an
"e", so we need to cancel the "e" before we add "-ing".
Sometimes, there's a problem with the word order.
You might have all the right words, but not in the right order.
For example: "When you were going to call?"
that's not right.
What should it be?
"When were you going to call?", okay?
Sometimes, words are missing.
For example: "You waiting a long time?"
What should it be?
This is a question, so which word goes first?
Goes here, it should be "Were you".
"Were you waiting a long time?", not just "you waiting".
Were you waiting a long time?
Let's look at another example where there are missing words.
"He talking to a client."
Let's suppose this is in the past continuous.
Again, the verb "to be", that helping verb, we need that, so it should be "He was talking
to a client.", okay?
Now it's correct and of course, we have to remember that, with this tense, we can't use
many of the stative verbs.
So, this student made a mistake and said, "I was believing you.", but "believe" is one
of those stative verbs, so we just cannot use it in this tense.
So, we would have had to say, "I believed you.", which is just past simple.
We cannot use this word with the continuous form.
So, these are some of the main mistakes you should be careful of.
You have just learned when to use this tense, when not to use this tense, and also how to
use this tense.
You've learned how to make a positive sentence, a negative sentence, and also a question.
For example, you know you to say, "Robert was driving.", or "Robert wasn't driving",
or "Was Robert driving?", okay?
And when you can do that, it means that you can move comfortably between different kinds
of sentences and different kinds of usages of this tense, alright?
Now, I've written on the board a few other questions you might hear people saying and
asking that use this tense and which you could also start using.
For example: "What were you doing yesterday?", or "Where were you going?", or "Who were you
talking to?", okay?
You might hear these kinds of questions and they are, in fact, using this tense which
you have just learned, okay?
And to practice it a little bit more, I suggest you write something about your day.
What were you doing yesterday?
Write some of those things down and you'll find that you're using this tense and it's
quite useful, alright?
Where do you go from here?
Once you're comfortable with this tense, then you can go on to watch the next tense in our
series, which is the future simple tense, alright?
And if you'd like to practice this one a little bit more, you can go to www.engvid.com and
do a quiz on this, alright?
Congratulations again, and all the best with your English.