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.





Past Progressive – Verb Form

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

Affirmative Statements

Subject Was/Were Base Verb + ing
I was working that night.
You were living in Sao Paulo
He/She/It was watching TV.
We were walking to the store.
They/You (plural) were playing tenis.


Negative Statements

Subject Was/Were + Not (wasn’t/weren’t) Base Verb = ing
I wasn’t eating dinner.
You weren’t waiting for us.
She/He/It wasn’t driving very fast.
We weren’t thinking about the consequences.
They/You (plural) weren’t sleeping at 8:00 am.


Yes/No Questions

Was/Were Subject Base Verb + ing
Were you living in Sidney?
Was he cooking dinner?
Were they writing their essay?


Short Answers

Yes Subject Was No Subject Was/were + Not (wasn’t/weren’t)
Yes, I was. No, I wasn’t.
Yes, he was. No, he wasn’t.
Yes, they were. No, they weren’t.


Information Questions

Wh- Word Was/Were Subject Base Verb + ing
Who were you talking to?
What was she watching?
When was he working there?
Where was it snowing?
How were they saving money?
Why were they changing jobs?
Who (subject) was leaving?
What (subject) was happening?

Second Conditional: Unreal Possibility

The Second Conditional used for impossible situations, unlikely events, dreams, and advice.

This conditional talks about the future, but there isn’t usually a real possibility that this condition will happen.

Imagine winning the lottery.  Even though you don’t have a ticket, you could buy a lottery ticket in the future and win, so you can still imagine what you would do if that ever happened.  It’s not very real, but it’s still possible.

We use the Past Simple to talk about the future condition.  We use would or could  or might base verb to talk about the result.

The “be” verb is usually conjugated in the subjunctive form of “were“.

IF Condition Result
If  loved her,  would marry her.
If They won the lottery, they could buy a new house.
If she were happy at work, she might not be looking for another job.
If were in your position, would understand.
If you went to Paris, would you visit the Eiffel Tower?
Result IF Condition
I would get a new job if I were you.
I could be rich if I worked harder.
She might marry Sam if he became rich.
He would do it for me if I asked him.
What would you do if you lived in China?

The difference between the First and Second conditional is usually a matter of the speaker’s attitude rather than facts.  For example, Kristen thinks these things are possible, but Jackie doesn’t.

  • Kristen: If I win the lottery, I will travel the world.
  • Jackie: If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.
  • Kristen: If I have more spare time, I will join the sports club.
  • Jackie: If I had more spare time, I would join the sports club.


We can also use the Past Progressive in the “if” clause. For example:

  • If we were working together, we would finish much faster.
  • If you were living in Vancouver, you could see me every day.


Sometimes the “if” clause is implied and not directly stated. For example:

  • What would I do without you? (if you weren’t here)
  • He wouldn’t agree. (if I asked him)