Past Progressive – Verb Meaning and Use

Past Cont GraphicThis post will show you how to use the Past Progressive (also called the Past Continuous). To see how to form the Past Progressive, click here.

We use the Past Progressive to talk about activities that were in progress (happening) at a specific time in the past. This may be an exact moment in the past or a longer period of time.

  • It wasn’t raining at lunch time, it was snowing.
  • You were acting weird last night.
  • I was studying in Brasilia in 2010.


The Past Progressive expresses an ongoing past activity that may or may not be completed.

  • At 7:00 Rodrigo was making dinner in the kitchen. (He was in the middle of making dinner and we don’t know if he finished.)
  • The children were building a snowman while it was snowing. (They were in the middle of building a snowman and we don’t know if they finished.)


Simultaneous Events

Sentences with two past time clauses describe the order in which two past events happened. When the verbs in both the time clause and the main clause are in the Past Progressive, the events were simultaneous (happening at the same time).

  • When you were studying, I was working.
  • They were playing hockey while we were shopping.


Interrupted Events

When one verb is in the Past Simple and the other in the Past Progressive, it shows that one event interrupted the other. The event in the Past Progressive started first and was interrupted by the Past Simple event. When or while begins the time clause, which uses the Past Progressive.

  • While we were eating dinner, the phone rang.
  • She ran into Adam when she was walking to school.


Background Information

The Past Progressive often appears at the beginning of a narrative to describe background activities. It can express several background activities happening at the same time as the main event. The main even is in the Past Simple.

  • It was raining hard outside and my roommate was taking a shower. At exactly 7:10, there was a huge clap of thunder. I jumped up as the house shook violently.
  • When we arrived at the stadium, the home team was winning,  all the fans were cheering, and my heart was racing with excitement.