Past Continuous

A: Example situation:

Yesterday Charles and Tina played tennis. They began at 10 o'clock and finished at 11.30.
So, at 10.30 they were playing tennis.
They were playing = they were in the middle of playing.
They had not finished playing.
Was/were -ing is the past continuous:

playing . doing . working etc.

  • I/he/she/it was
  • we/you/they were

B: I was doing something = I was in the middle of doing something at a certain time. The action or situation had already started before this time, but had not finished:

  • This time last year I was living in Brazil.
  • What were you doing at 10 o'clock last night?
  • I waved to Tina, buy she wasn't looking.

Compare the past continuous (I was doing) and past simple(I did):
Past continuous (in the middle of an action)

  • I was walking home when I met Dave. (in the middle of an action)
  • David was watching television when we arrived.
    Past simple (complete action)
  • I walked home after the party last night.(= all the way, completely)
  • David watched television a lot when she was ill last year.

We often use the past simple and the past continuous together to say that something happened in the middle of something else:

  • Matt phoned while we were having dinner.
  • It was raining when I got up.
  • I saw you in the park yesterday. You were sitting on the grass and reading a book.
  • I hurt my back while I was working in the garden.

But we use the past simple to say that one thing happened after another:

  • I was walking along the road when I saw David. So I stopped, and we had a chat.


  • When David arrived, we were having dinner.
    (= we had already started before she arrived)
  • When David arrived, we had dinner.
    (= David arrived, and then we had dinner)

Some verbs (for example, know and want) are not normally used in the continuous

  • We were good friends. We knew each other well. (not We were knowing)
  • I was enjoying the party, but Chris wanted to go home. (not was wanting)


What were you doing at these times? Write sentences as in the examples.
The past continuous is not always necessary(see the second example).

1.(at 8 o'clock yesterday evening) _________________________________
2.(at 5 o'clock last Monday) _______________________________________
3.(at 10.15 yesterday morning) _____________________________________
4.(at 4.30 this morning) ___________________________________________
5.(at 7.45 yesterday evening) ______________________________________
6.(half an hour ago) _______________________________________________

Use your own ideas to complete the sentences. Use the past continuous.

  1. Matt phoned while we ____________________________________________
  2. The doorbell rang while I _______________________________________
  3. We saw an accident while I ______________________________________
  4. Ann fell asleep while she _______________________________________
  5. The television was on, but nobody _______________________________

Put the verb into the correct form, past continuous or past simple.

  1. I __________(see) Olivia in town yesterday, but she __________(not/see) me.
    She __________(look) the other way.
  2. I __________(meet) David and Tina at the airport a few weeks ago.
    They __________(go) to Paris and I __________(go) to Rome.
    We __________(have) a chat while we __________(wait) for out flights.
  3. I __________(cycle) home yesterday when a man __________(step) out into the road in front of me. I __________ (go) quite fast,
    but luckily I __________(manage) to stop in time and __________ (not/hit) him.

Put the verb into the correct form, past continuous or past simple.

  1. Chris _______________(wait) for me when I __________ (arrive).
  2. What __________(you/do) at this time yesterday? I was asleep.
  3. ____________(you/go) out last night? No, I was too tired.
  4. How fast __________(you/drive) when the accident __________(happen)?
  5. Sam __________(take) a photograph of me while I __________(not/look).
  6. We were in a very difficult position. We __________(not/know) what to do.
  7. I haven't seen David ages. When I lat __________(see)him,
    he ____________________(try) to find a job.
  8. I ____________________(walk) along the street when suddenly
    I __________(hear) footsteps behind me. Somebody __________(follow) me.
    I was scared and I __________ (start) to run.
  9. When I was young, I __________(want) to be a pilot.
  10. Last night I __________(drop) a plate when I __________ (do) the
    the washing up. Fortunately it ____________________(not/break).