Mastering Past Continuous Tense: 100+ Examples and Usage Formula

by Johnny Jacks
As one of the most crucial tenses in English grammar, the past continuous tense is employed to portray an action or event that was ongoing around a specific time in the past. To grasp the formula and usage of this tense, let’s examine the past continuous examples in the article below.

Formula for the past continuous

Similar to other tense structures in English, the past continuous tense formula is categorized into four forms: affirmative form, negative form, interrogative form, and question form containing question words.

Affirmative Formula

Subject/Personal pronoun

Formula

I, you

S + was + V-ing

He, she, it

S + was + V-ing

We, you, they

S + were + V-ing

Eg:

The sun wasn’t shining every day that summer. (That summer the sun wasn’t consistently bright.)

She wasn’t reading a book while people were talking to each other. (She wasn’t reading a book while everyone was talking to each other.)

They weren’t watching football on TV at 10 p.m yesterday. (They didn’t watch football on TV at 10 p.m. yesterday.)

I wasn’t playing chess when she called me. (I wasn’t playing chess when she called me.)

While I wasn’t listening to music, I heard the doorbell. (While I wasn’t listening to music, I heard the doorbell ring.)

Khoa wasn’t planting flowers in the garden at 5 p.m yesterday. (Khoa wasn’t planting flowers in the garden at 5 p.m yesterday.)

They weren’t working when the fire happened yesterday. (They weren’t working when the fire broke out yesterday.)

He wasn’t always remembering his girlfriend’s birthday. (He always forgets his girlfriend’s birthday.)

While I wasn’t reading a book last night, suddenly the electricity went off. (While I wasn’t reading a book last night, suddenly the electricity went off.)

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The man wasn’t sending money to his daughter in the post office at that time. (The man wasn’t sending money to his daughter in the post office at the time.)

Negative formula

Subject/Personal pronoun

Formula

I, you

S + was + not + V-ing / I wasn’t V-ing

He, she, it

S + was + not + V-ing / I wasn’t V-ing

We, you, they

S + were + not + V-ing / weren’t + V-ing

Eg:

Wasn’t I sleeping when you got home late last night? (Wasn’t I sleeping when you got home last night?)

Weren’t they sleeping during the meeting last Monday? (Weren’t they sleeping during last Monday’s meeting?)

Was my sister not doing the housework when our guest came home? (Did my sister not do the housework when our grandparents came home?)

Weren’t they going to school when Mr. Just met them yesterday? (Weren’t they at school when Duck met them yesterday?)

Was my mother not mopping the floor when my father returned? (Did my mother not mop the floor when my father returned?)

Wasn’t I waiting in front of the theater when she got there? (Wasn’t I waiting in front of the theater when she got there?)

Wasn’t she doing her makeup in her room when I arrived? (Wasn’t she doing her makeup in her room when I arrived?)

Wasn’t the van running very fast when the traffic light was red? (Wasn’t the van going fast when the light was red?)

Wasn’t my father playing Chinese chess with his friend when I got home? (Wasn’t my father playing chess with his friends when I got home?)

Interrogative formula (Yes/No question)

Subject/Personal pronoun

Formula

I, you

Was + S + V-ing?

He, she, it

Was + S + V-ing?

We, you, they

Were + S + V-ing?

Eg:

What were you doing at 5 p.m. yesterday? (What were you doing at 5 pm yesterday?)

Where was your mother going at 7 a.m. yesterday? (Where did your mother go at 7 am yesterday?)

Who were they staying with when I called yesterday? (Who did they stay with when I called yesterday?)

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Why were you calling me when I emailed you this afternoon? (Why did you call me when I emailed you this afternoon?)

What were they doing when policemen appeared? (What were they doing when the police showed up?)

What were you thinking about last night? (What were you thinking about last night?)

Who were they listening to while he was talking? (Who were they listening to when he was talking?)

Where was Lily riding her bike when Jane saw her yesterday? (Where was Lily riding her bike when Jane saw her yesterday?)

What were you studying at 5 p.m. yesterday? (What were you studying at 5 p.m. yesterday?)

What were we making too much noise for? (Why were we making too much noise?)

Formula for WH questions in the past continuous tense

Subject/Personal pronoun

Formula

I, you

Wh + was + S + V-ing?

He, she, it

Wh + was + S + V-ing?

We, you, they

Wh + were + S + V-ing?

Eg:

What were you doing when I called? (What were you doing when I called?)

What were you doing in the morning yesterday? (What were you doing yesterday morning?)

What were you doing at 10 pm yesterday? (What were you doing at 10 o’clock last night?)

Where were you going when I caught you last night? (Where were you going when I caught you last night?)

What was the Lord doing when the fire happened? (What was the Lord doing when the fire broke out?)

What were you doing when the alarm went off last night? (What were you doing when the alarm went off last night?)

What was she doing this time yesterday? (What was she doing at this time yesterday?)

What was she talking about? (What was she talking about?)

What were you doing in the meeting yesterday? (What were you doing in the meeting yesterday?)

What was she doing while her mother was making lunch? (What was she doing while her mother was making lunch?)

Read more: Easily Remembered Past Perfect Continuous Examples

Synthesize examples of the past continuous in 5 ways

So, in what cases should we use the past continuous tense? To better understand this type of tense, let’s take a look at 5 ways to use the past continuous with us, along with illustrative examples!

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Describing an action that was happening at a specific time in the past:

  • I was watching TV at 8 o’clock last night.
  • They were living in England this time last year.
  • I was studying English at 10 p.m last night.
  • We were watching TV at 12 a.m last night.
  • While it was snowing in Iowa, the sun was shining in Florida.
  • I was chatting with my friends while my teacher was giving a lecture yesterday.

Actions that happened simultaneously in the past:

  • John was listening to music while his mother was cooking in the kitchen.
  • Our team was having dinner, discussing plans, and having a good time.
  • While he was taking a bath, she was using the computer.
  • She was singing while I was playing the game.
  • She was writing a letter while we were watching a movie.
  • She was drawing while he was playing video games.

Actions that did not happen at a specific time in the past:

  • He wasn’t studying at that time.
  • What were you doing at 7 o’clock last night?
  • Yesterday, he was working in the laboratory all afternoon.
  • They were meeting secretly after school.
  • We couldn’t go to the beach yesterday because it rained.

Actions interrupted by other actions in the past:

  • When I was traveling to Hawai Island, my dog ran away from home.
  • When I was living with my dad, he cooked special dishes every day.
  • While John was reading a book, Martha was watching television.
  • When Tom arrived, we were having dinner.

Actions happening over a long period in the past:

  • The children were doing their homework when I got home.
  • While I was studying in my room, my roommates were having a party in another room.
  • The tourist lost his camera while walking around the city.

Above is an article about examples of the past continuous tense. Hopefully, it has provided readers with useful knowledge about basic English grammar.

Wishing you all the best in your studies!

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