What is Past Continuous Tense? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Past Tenses
  • 0:51 Forming Past Continuous
  • 2:20 Use of Past Continuous
  • 3:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The past continuous tense, also known as the past progressive tense, describes continuous events that happened in the past. In this lesson, learn how to form the past continuous tense and when you might want to use it.

Past Tenses

What is the difference between saying 'I walked' and 'I was walking'? Both of these sentences refer to actions that happened in the past. This means that the verb, or action word, is in past tense. But why then are there two different ways of saying this?

Well, the answer is because there is more than one form of the past tense. 'I walked' is written in simple past, where you show an event happened in the past by typically adding an '-ed' to the end of the verb. But 'I was walking' is a special form of past tense called the past continuous tense or past progressive tense that uses a helping verb and a present participle. You'll see both of these names used in grammar books, but in this lesson we'll stick with past continuous tense.

Forming Past Continuous

Forming the past continuous tense is pretty simple. First, you need a helping verb, which is used along with the main verb to show differences in time and mood. For the past continuous tense, if the noun doing the action is in the first-person ('I') or third-person singular (he, she, it), use 'was.' If the noun doing the action is in the second-person ('you') or plural (we, they), use 'were.'

Then you'll need to use the present participle of the main verb, more commonly called the '-ing' form because it's formed by adding '-ing' to the end of the verb. Let's look at a couple of examples:

  • Walk - walking
  • Climb - climbing
  • Fight - fighting

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when forming the present participle. If the verb ends in 'e,' you drop it, as in:

  • Save - saving
  • Have - having
  • Love - loving

If the verb ends with a single consonant after the vowel, you double it, as in:

  • Run - running
  • Swim - swimming
  • Sit - sitting

Combining a helping verb with a present participle gives you the past continuous tense:

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