Past Continuous

Why use this? What is this tense for?

  1. Describe an action that continued in the past
  2. Questions & Answers
  3. Duration

Action that continued in the past

I slept = finished action

I was sleeping = action was not finished

Look at the picture underneath:

How to explain this?  This is not in the present, this was yesterday.

X: They are fighting

X: They fight

X: They fought

O: They were fighting

The action was not finished, it continued, before and after this moment.

If we say “they fought”, we understand the fight is over.  At this point in the picture, the fight is definitely not finished!

This tense is called the past continuous

subject + (“to be” in past simple form) + (verb in continuous form)

I was reading a book

Here are three ways to explain the same idea:

  • This shows an action that continued in the past.
  • This shows an action that started before a time and continued after.
  • This shows an action that didn’t stop, in the past.


I was reading Death Note.

This sentence isn’t enough!  We need to know more information such as when or what else happened.  If you don’t give this information, people will usually ask a question. So,

I was reading Death Note, when you called me.

At 7.30, I was having dinner.

Finished or continued?

I played a game = action is finished

I was playing a game = action was not finished

Present an image of the action

  1. “I thought about it.”
  2. “I was thinking about it.”

(1) shows the action is finished in the past.  This is all.

(2) shows the action that continues.  Presents an image of the action.

  1. She ran
  2. She was running

(1) shows the action is finished in the past.  This is all.   Maybe she is at the destination.  Maybe she is tired.  We do not know.   We need more information.

(2) We can see, in our minds, this person is running.


>> Part 2: Focus on Past Continuous Action