Past Continuous

I was reading a book while my phone was charging

Use of the past continuous

The past continuous tense in English is used to describe an action that was ongoing or in process in the past and often used to describe a background action while another shorter action took place. It is formed by using the past participle of the verb “to be” (was/were) + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb. Check this Lesson to review the topic.

Let’s summarise the past continuous and add some new things:

  • Past continuous with when, to express interruption:

They were exercising at the gym when the storm started
We were playing video games when our parents came home.
She was reading a book when her phone rang.
I was studying for my exam when my friend called.

  • Past continuous with while, to express simultaneity:

We were cleaning the house while our dog was sleeping
I was reading a book while my phone was charging
She was studying while her roommate was watching TV
He was writing an email while his boss was calling him

👉 If you want to show frustration or irritation, you can add always or constantly between to be and verb+ing

I was always studying late at night during the exam season.
They were always playing music loudly.
She was constantly talking while the movie was playing.
We were constantly running late for appointments.
He was constantly interrupting me while I was working.

Negative form

Just add not or the contracted form n’t after to be.

I wasn’t studying last night.
They weren’t playing tennis when it started to rain.
They weren’t cooking dinner when I arrived home.
We weren’t watching TV when the power went out.
He wasn’t driving to work yesterday morning.


To ask questions you only need to start with were/was or with a WH question (why, where, what…):

Were you studying for your exam at 10pm last night?
Was he playing soccer when he injured his ankle?
Were they walking in the park when it started to snow?
Was she cooking dinner when you arrived home?
Were you watching TV when the power went out?

What were you doing at 10pm last night?
Where was he going when you saw him yesterday?
When were they rehearsing for the play?
How long were you waiting for the bus before it arrived?
What were they eating for dinner when you joined them?

Now test what you’ve learnt! 👉