Past Continuous Tense

You are viewing the free, open access version of The Nature of Writing. For all premium membership features (including quizzes, additional lessons, course progress tracking, and more), please register or log in.


The past continuous (or past progressive) is a tense that describes an unfinished action in the past. By unfinished we don’t mean that the action never ended. Rather, the action continued or progressed over a period of time.


To form the past continuous, use was or were and the present participle:

Negative Form

The negative form simply adds not:

We were not dating.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Were you holding hands?


Incomplete Actions

I was mowing the lawn at the time.

We were drawing penguins.

With Other Actions

The past continuous is often used in conjunction with other verbs. Together they relate actions in time:

While we were messaging, Tom’s dad grabbed his phone and threw it out of the window.

Before I went to school, I was reading Asterix and Obelix.

Repeated Actions

Every day we were conjugating verbs.

It was raining constantly.

To Show Change

Times were changing.

They were learning so many life lessons.

The tomatoes were ripening quickly.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.