Past Continuous Tense Grammar, Formula, Uses, and Exercises

Past Continuous Tense Grammar

Past Continuous Tense Use

The past continuous tense is used to describe an action or state that was ongoing in the past.


It is often used in storytelling, where you describe an action or state that was ongoing until another event happened to interrupt it (Example 1). It can also just be used to set the scene of a story by describing the place/time that something happened (Example 2). Finally, we can also use the past continuous to show that your mind was changed (Example 3).

Example 1: I was playing my video games when my mom told me to go to bed. (interrupted action)
Example 2: It was raining when he knocked on my door. (background description)
Example 3: She was going to visit her friend, but she decided to go to the beach instead. (change of mind)

If you are paying attention, you will note that each of our above examples all use past continuous with simple past. This is very common, as past continuous tense can set up the situation while simple past tells us what happens there.

However, you do not need to use the simple past with past continuous, and it is okay to have past continuous on its own in a sentence (Example 3).

Example 4: He was living in London from 1965 to 1973.

Now that we have seen how to use the past continuous, let’s move on to the formulas for how we conjugate it.

If you are interested in seeing more examples of the past continuous, you can take a look at our past continuous examples page.

Past Continuous Tense Formula

The past continuous tense formula is very familiar if you have already learned present continuous and simple past.

The formula is “was/were” + the base verb + ing. 

To see how it works, you can take a look at our below formulas.

Positive Formula

I was verb+ing
I was playing

You were verb+ing
You were playing

He was verb+ing
He was playing

She was verb+ing
She was playing

It was verb+ing
It was playing

We were verb+ing
We were playing

They were verb+ing
they were playing

Negative Formula

I was not (wasn’t) verb+ing
I was not running / I wasn’t running

You were not (weren’t) verb+ing
You were not running / You weren’t running

He was not (wasn’t) verb+ing
He was not running / He wasn’t running

She was not (wasn’t) verb+ing
She was not running / She wasn’t running

It was not (wasn’t) verb+ing
It was not running / It wasn’t running

We were not (weren’t) verb+ing
We were not running / We weren’t running

They were not (weren’t) verb+ing
They were not running / They weren’t running

Positive Question Formula

Was I verb+ing
Was I eating?

Were you verb+ing
Were you eating?

Was he verb+ing
Was he eating?

Was she verb+ing
Was she eating?

Was it verb+ing
Was it eating?

Were we verb+ing
Were we eating?

Were they verb+ing
Were they eating?

Negative Question Formula

An important point to note. When making a negative question with past continuous, you should form it with a contraction.

So we should ask: Weren’t you studying French last year?

But not: Were you not studying French last year? (sounds formal/awkward)
Were not you studying French last year? (incorrect)

Wasn’t I verb+ing
Wasn’t I speaking?

Weren’t you verb+ing
Weren’t you speaking?

Wasn’t he verb+ing
Wasn’t he speaking?

Wasn’t she verb+ing
Wasn’t she speaking?

Wasn’t it verb+ing
Wasn’t it speaking?

Weren’t we verb+ing
Weren’t we speaking?

Weren’t they verb+ing
Weren’t they speaking?


Past Continuous Tense Exercises

Now that we have seen how to use the past continuous, we can begin to practice. We have laid out the questions and answers in the next two sections. If you prefer, you can download a PDF copy of our exercises as well.

We have made two exercises for you to do. You can find the answers in the next section.

Conjugate the Verbs

1. I _____________  in the field. (to run)

2. You _____________ in the park when she _____________ home. (to exercise / to come)

3. They _____________ last night. (to study + not)

4. Tim _____________ a shower while I _____________ breakfast. (to take / to have)

5. Luna and Jane _____________ for a dog this Christmas. (to hope)

6. Grant and I _____________ on the floor. (to lay)

7. He _____________ his home all day. (to decorate)

8. She _____________ in the pool while they _____________ at work. (to play / to be)

Answer the Question

1. What were you doing yesterday when I came home? (play video games)

2. Where were you living during the war? (in England)

3. When were they eating at dinner yesterday? (sushi)

4. Were Tim and Jenny playing soccer last week? (Yes)

5. Was he studying for the test all last month? (No)


Answers to Our Verb Exercises

Conjugate the Verbs (Answers)

1. I was running in the field.

2. You were exercising in the park when she came home.

3. They weren’t studying last night.

4. Tim was taking a shower while I had (was having) breakfast.

5. Luna and Jane were hoping for a dog this Christmas.

6. Grant and I were laying on the floor.

7. He was decorating his home all day.

8. She was playing in the pool while they were at work. 

Answer the Question (Answers)

1. I was playing video games when you came home.

2. I was living in England during the war.

3. They were eating sushi at dinner yesterday.

4. Yes, they were playing soccer last week.

5. No, he wasn’t studying for the test all last month.

More Verb Practice with The Learner’s Nook

It’s always good to get more practice with verbs. A strong basis in verbs in English can allow you to excel in your English studies. As well, if you are planning on taking any standardized tests for English, good verb skills can make you stand out.

If you are interested in our other verb content, you can look at our Verbs Page or click on the image below. We have grammar explanations, exercises, quizzes, examples, and more.

If you have any questions about verbs in English, please feel free to message us by commenting on this post or clicking on the question image below.

Click here to ask your questions.

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