Past Continuous Tense | Formula, Signs, Uses, Examples & Exercises

In English, the Past Continuous Tense is one of the 12 important tenses of grammar. Understanding the structure, usage of the past continuous, and how to distinguish it from other tenses will partly make it easier for you to practice and communicate in English.

This article English Awesome will synthesize all knowledge about the past continuous: structure, usage, some telltale signs, and practical application exercises. Let’s find out together!

See more at: Past Continuous

Definition of the Past Continuous Tense in English

The Past Continuous Tense is often used to emphasize the progression or process of things, events, or the time of things or events that took place in the past with a prolonged nature.

How do we use the Past Continuous Tense?

There are 4 main uses of the past continuous as below:

Emphasize the happenings, the process of things, events, or the time when things or events take place.


+ At 10 a.m yesterday, she was studying at school.

+ She was having dinner at 7 p.m yesterday.

Describe two or more actions that were happening at a time in the past.


+ While he was cooking, his sister was using the computer, his mother was working in the garden.

+ She was singing while I was sleeping.

+ She was reading a book while we were watching a movie.

Describes an action that is happening when another action is interrupted


+ As he was walking down the street, a car drove up.

+ We ran into Alice while walking in the park yesterday.

+ The power went out while I was watching TV.

Repeated actions in the past and at the same time annoy others


+ My mother was always complaining about my room when he got there.

+ He was always forgetting his mother’s birthday.

Past Continuous Tense Formula

Past Continuous Tense Formula

The structure of the past continuous is the same as that of the present continuous, in which the verb tobe is changed to the past form of was/were.

S + was/were + V-ing (+ O)
S = I/ He/ She/ It + was
S = We/ You/ They + were
S + was/were + not + V-ing (+ O)
was not = wasn’t
were not = weren’t
Q: ( WH-question) + was/were + S + V-ing (+ O)?
A: Yes, S + was     No,  S + wasn’t     
WH-question: How, Which, Whom, Who, What,…
+ I was cooking in the kitchen at 5 p.m yesterday.
+ They were playing football when he came yesterday. 
+ I wasn’t cooking in the kitchen at 5 p.m yesterday.
+ They were not playing football when he came yesterday. 
+ What was she doing at 4 p.m yesterday? 
+ Were you thinking about her last week?

You might also like: Past Perfect Tense | Formula, Signs, Uses, Examples & Exercises

How to add -ing after the Verb

– With most verbs, you just need to add “ing” at the end.

+ Cook => cooking

+ Clean => cleaning

+ Watch => watching

+ Sing     => singing

In addition, there are some notable cases such as:

–  When the verb ends in ONE “–e” then we drop the “e” before adding “-ing”

+ write  => writing

+ type => typing

+ live =>living

+ leave => leave

+ come => coming

+ make => making For verbs with one syllable, ending in a consonant, preceded by a vowel

We double the last consonant and add “-ing”.

+ Get => getting

+ Pat => patting

+ Put => putting

– With verbs ending in “ie”

We change “ie” to “y” and then add “-ing”. 

+ Lie => lying

+ Die => dying

Signal Words for the Past Continuous Tense

– At + exact time + past time


+ I was playing chess at 10 p.m last night.

+ We were playing soccer at 6 p.m. yesterday.

– In + specified year


+ In 2010, he was living in Germany.

+ In 2019, I was studying for the university entrance exam.

– at this time + past time. (at this time two weeks ago, …)


+ I was hanging out at this time two weeks ago.

+ My mother was visiting her grandmother at this time two weeks ago.

– The past continuous has a sentence with “when” when describing an action that is happening when another action is interrupted.


+ She was cooking in the kitchen when her phone rang

+ When I was studying in my room, my mother came in.

–  Sentences with the appearance of some special words/phrases: while, at that time


+ She is reading a book while he plays soccer.

+ I was listening to music at that time.

+ I was studying when my sister played with toys.

Common Regular verb in the Past Continuous Tense

V_infPast ContinuousNegation of Past Continuous
askaskingwas/were not asking
jumpjumpingwas/were not jumping
looklookingwas/were not looking
thankthankingwas/were not thanking
wantwantingwas/were not wanting
callcallingwas/were not calling
pleasepleasingwas/were not pleasing
openopeningwas/were not opening
startstartingwas/were not starting
useusingwas/were not using
seeseeingwas/were not seeing
likelikingwas/were not liking
carrycarryingwas/were not carrying
laughlaughingwas/were not laughing
workworkingwas/were not working
stopstoppingwas/were not stopping
wishwishingwas/were not wishing
helphelpingwas/were not helping
pickpickingwas/were not picking
walkwalkingwas/were not walking
livelivingwas/were not living
washwashingwas/were not washing
readreadingwas/were not reading
studystudyingwas/were not studying
listenlisteningwas/were not listening
playplayingwas/were not playing
meetmeetingwas/were not meeting
sitsittingwas/were not sitting
putputtingwas/were not putting

You might also like: Irregular Verbs List: Base Form V1, Simple Past V2, Past Participle V3

Distinguish Between the Past Simple and the Past Continuous in English

These are the 2 most confusing tenses in terms of usage and meaning in the 12 basic English tenses. It will be difficult for learners if we only learn knowledge in single tenses without comparison or distinction. Therefore, English Awesome will give some criteria to distinguish 2 Past Simple and Past Continuous:

Structure of Past Simple and Past Continuous

Past simplePast continuous
1. To be:
S+Was/Were + O
– She was a singer
2. Verbs:
– I met my husband when I was 6 years old.
– They lived in Japan last year.
– I was studying when my mom came home.
– They were having dinner at 7 p.m last night

How to use Past Simple and Past Continuous Tense

1. Express an action that started and ended completely in the past
+ I graduated from high school in 2015.
1. Express an action that was happening at a certain time in the past
+ What were you doing at this time last night? 
2. Express actions that happened consecutively in the past
+ She came home, switched on the television, and ate some cakes.  
2. Express two or more actions that happened at the same time in the past.
+ While my mother was reading a book, I was cooking dinner. 
3. Used in some of the following recipes:
+ I used to smoke when I was young.
+ I was playing volleyball when she came.
+ If I were you, I would buy a car. (Used in some of the following recipes:) 
3. Used in some of the following recipes:
+ I saw Harry while he was running in the park.
+ He was listening to the news when the phone rang.
4. Signal words:
+ Last night/ year/month;
+ yesterday,
+ ago;
+ time in the past: 2010,…
4. Signal words:
+ At this time
+ at this moment
+ last year;
+ at 7 p.m last night;
+ while… 

See more at: Grammar

Past Continuous Tense Exercise with Answers

Exercise of Past Continuous Tense

Exercise 1: Put the verbs in brackets in the past continuous to complete the sentences

1. Hari’s friend _________ off the ladder while she _______________ the ceiling of his room. ( fall, paint)

2. They ______________ the car in 2013. At that time it _______________ £ 100,000. ( buy, cost)

3. She _____________ interested in buying a new bike. (not be)

4. My brother ______________ for me at the airport when I ____________.  (wait, arrive)

5. At 10 p.m last night, I ____________ a novel when suddenly I _____________ a noise outside. A few people_____________ loud music. (read, hear, play)

6. My daddy______________ for a job when he ______________ across an interesting ad on the TV. (look, come)

7. I _______________ someone call me. I ______________ around and ______________ my mom standing at the back of the queue. I _______________ so surprised. (hear, turn, saw,be)

8. My friend_______________ a nice dress when I ______________ her at the performance. (wear, see)

9. I _________ preparing lunch at 11 a.m and I ______________ still at it when my husband______________ home. (start, be, come)

10. She______________ the vase. When she ______________ up the pieces, she _________ her finger. (break, pick, cut)

11. They ______________ that they______________ in the wrong direction. (realise,drive)

12. He ______________ a great dancer when he was young. (be)

13. I ______________ a friend in shop while I _____________ the shopping. (meet, do)

14. While the children _____________ with others my grandmother and I _____________ to have a cup of coffee. (play, decide)

Exercise 2: Put the following verbs correctly in the past simple and past continuous

Last holiday, I went to Hawaii.  I (go) (1) …………to the beach for the first time. I (swim) (2) …………in the sea while my mom was sleeping in the sun. My younger brother was building a sandcastle and my father (drink) (3) …………. some coconut water. Unexpectedly, I (see) (4) …………a handsome boy. His eyes were blue like the water in the sea and his hair (be) (5) …………beautiful yellow. He was very tall and thin and his face was white. My heart (beat) (6) …………fast. I (ask) (7) …………him for his name. He (tell) (8) …………me that his name was Jack. Jack (stay) (9) …………with me the whole afternoon. In the evening, we met again. We ate seafood in a restaurant. The following days we (have) (10) …………many memories together. At the end of my holiday when I left Hawaii I said goodbye to Jack. He wrote me a letter very soon and I answered him.

Exercise 3: Complete the sentences using Past Continuous Tense

1. Jessica (send) _________ a voice message to her mom.

2. Roise & Bill (have) __________breakfast together.

3. My father (drive) ____________ back home from work.

4. Philip  (dive) _____________ into the swimming pool

5. My mom (tidy) ___________ up my room.

6. My  elder sister (sleep) ___________in her room.

7. Susan (fly) ____________ to New York to visit her grandparents.

8. My mother (prepare) ________ barbecue for us.

9. Linda  (sunbathe) ____________ on Hawaii.

10. My grandmother (water) ____________ flowers in the garden.

Exercise 4: Conjugate the verbs in the suitable past continuous or simple past

1. Tracy (see) the accident when she was catching the bus.

2. What were you (do) you do when he called?

3. I (not visit) him last summer holiday.

4. It (rain) heavily last May.

5. While people were talking to each other, he (read)  his novel.

6. My brother (eat) pizza every weekend last month.

7. While they (run) in the park, Max fell over.

8. you (find) your bag yesterday?

9. Who he (dance) with at the party yesterday?

10. They (watch) football on TV at 9 p.m. yesterday.

Exercise 5: Find and correct the mistake in each of the following sentences.

1. I was play soccer when he called me.

2. Was you study English at 4 p.m. yesterday?

3. What was he do while her mother was cooking dinner?

4. Where did you went last summer?

5. Max turn on the television, but nothing happened.

6. She got up early and have breakfast at 6 a.m yesterday.

7. He didn’t broke the glasses. 

8. Last month my friend and I go to the zoo on the bus.

9. While I am listening to music, she came.

Exercise 6: Put the verbs in brackets in the past continuous to complete the sentences

1. I lost my key when I ________ (walk) home.

2. It was raining heavily while I ________ (have) dinner.

3. I saw ta supermarket when I ________ (sit) on the bus.

4. His phone rang while he ________ (talk) to his friend.

5. My friends ________ (drive) to go to school when they heard the news on the radio.

6. She ________ (ride) her motorbike when the dog ran across the road. 

7. They couldn’t go to the beach yesterday as it ________. (rain) 

8. The sun was shining and the birds ________ (sing) in the garden. 

9. The tourist lost her phone while she  _____ (walk) around the city.

10. The lorry  _____  (go) very fast when it hit our car.

Answers of Exercise Past Continuous Tense

Exercise 1:

  1. fell off – was painting
  2. bought –  cost
  3. was not interested
  4. was waiting – arrived.
  5. was reading – heard a noise outside – were playing
  6. was looking – came across
  7. heard – turned around – saw – was
  8. was wearing – saw
  9. started – was – came
  10. broke – was picking – cut
  11. realised – were driving
  12. was – was
  13. met – was doing
  14. were playing – decided 

Exercise 2:

  1. went
  2. was swimming
  3. was drinking
  4. saw
  5. was
  6.  was beating
  7. asked
  8. told
  9.  stayed
  10. had

Exercise 3:

  1. was sending
  2. were having
  3. was driving
  4. was diving
  5. was tidying
  6. was sleeping
  7. was flying
  8. were preparing
  9. was sunbathing
  10. was watering

Exercise 4:

  1. saw
  2. were you doing
  3. didn’t visit
  4. rained
  5. was reading
  6. ate
  7. were running
  8. did you find
  9. did she dance
  10. were watching

Exercise 5:

  1. play => playing
  2. Was…study => Were…studying
  3. was…do => did…do
  4. went => go
  5. turn => turned
  6. have => had
  7. broke => break
  8. go => went
  9. am => was

Exercise 6:

  1. was walking
  2. were having
  3. was sitting
  4. was talking
  5. were driving
  6. was riding
  7. was raining
  8. were singing
  9. was walking
  10. was going

Past Continuous Tense Exercises Pdf, Doc

Past Continuous Tense Exercises are very useful in improving your English skills. It is a type of English grammar exercise that helps you to understand the past continuous tense.

The Past Continuous Tense Exercise PDF and DOC are available for download. The exercise PDF contains exercises with answers, while the DOC contains exercises without answers.


It’s really useful, isn’t it? Please take notes carefully to practice your past continuous exercises well!

With the above sharing, EnglishAwesome hopes you have firmly grasped the knowledge about the past continuous tense. Let’s try our best with the exercises below! Good luck to you all!

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