What is Past Progressive Tense? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Lindsey Hays

Lindsey has taught Elementary Education, Spanish immersion, and ESL. She has a MS in Elementary Education with a BA in Spanish.

The past progressive tense describes what was in the process of happening when another event occurs. It sets the stage for other events to happen. In this lesson, we'll look at the past progressive tense and when to use it.

Actions Interrupted

Has someone ever interrupted you in the middle of something? Maybe you were reading, and your little brother came in and begged to play? Maybe you were playing a video game, and your mom called for you to come down to dinner? When you are completing an action but get interrupted, we use the past progressive tense.

In this lesson, we'll look at the past progressive tense and some examples of how you use them and what it's not.

What Is the Past Progressive Tense?

The past progressive tense is used to talk about activities that happen over a period of time in the past. They need the suffix ''ing'' at the end of the base word, which is called the present participle. They also follow the helping verb, ''to be'' in the past. Let's look at some examples.

  • We went swimming all day yesterday.

''Went swimming'' is in the past progressive tense. It describes an event that happened across an entire day, not just one moment. It uses the past tense verb of ''to be'' (''went'') and adds ''ing'' to the verb (swim).

  • The band was playing hit songs the whole concert.

''Was playing'' is also in the past progressive, since it uses ''was'', ''ing'', and describes what the band did across the entirety of the concert.

  • It was raining outside when she woke up.

''Was raining'' helps to set the stage for what happens next. It helps to describe the scene. It uses the helping verb (''was'') with the present participle (''raining'').

Remember, the past progressive tense uses this format:

  • I was + ing verb
  • He was + ing verb
  • She was +ing verb
  • It was + ing verb
  • They were + ing verb

Examples of ''ing verbs'' or present participle verbs include:

  • Laughing
  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Driving
  • Waking
  • Traveling

Important Uses

A lot of times, the past progressive tense describes something that was in the process of happening when another event occurred. It helps to paint the scene for when a specific incident occurred, or it can be used to describe an interrupted action.

  • I was doing my homework when the power went out.

''Was doing my homework'' describes what was in the process of happening when the single event, ''the power going out,'' occurred. The action of doing homework was interrupted by the power outage.

  • We were watching a movie when the doorbell rang.

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