The past continuous is often used with the past simple - check you know how to use the past simple before you look at this lesson. When you finish this lesson, you can test yourself on the past continuous here.

Using the past continuous

I was sleeping when the phone rang (past continuous).We make the past continuous with was/were + verb-ing. It is used for actions in progress at a moment in the past - often the background to a story.

I was sleeping when the phone rang.

I was sleeping at 3.30am.

Note: it is possible that the action continued (here, I didn't wake up). But, it is also possible that the action was interrupted at that moment (here, I woke up when the phone rang).

We also use past continuous when two longer events are happening at the same time

was thinking about my holiday while I was teaching my class this morning.


How to make the past continuous

We make the past continuous with was/were + verb-ing. Remember to use contractions (wasn't, weren't) when speaking or writing informally.

I / he / she / it - use was.

Positive: He was working.

Negative: He wasn't working.

Question: Was he working?

You / we / they - use were.

Positive: You were working.

Negative: You weren't working.

Question: Were you working?

Advanced uses of past continuous 

Annoying habits

We usually use past simple for habits/repeated actions. But, if you are annoyed/amused, you can use the past continuous with 'always'.

My little brother was always losing his toys! 

 When you are ready, practise using the past continuous here.