Past continuous

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A. Study this example situation:

Yesterday Karen and Joe played tennis. They started at 10 o’clock and finished at 11.30. So, at 10.30 they were playing tennis.

they were playing =
they were in the middle of playing, they had not finished

was/were + -ing is the past continuous:

B. I was doing something = I was in the middle of doing it at a certain time. The action or situation started before this time, but had not finished:

  • This time last year I was living in Hong Kong.
  • What were you doing at 10 o’clock last night?
  • I waved to Helen, but she wasn’t looking.

C. Compare I was doing (past continuous) and I did (past simple):

I was doing (= in the middle of an action)

  • We were walking home when I met Dan. (in the middle of walking home)
  • Kate was watching TV when we
  • arrived.

I did (= complete action)

  • We walked home aft er the party last night. (= all the way, completely)
  • Kate watched TV a lot when she was ill last year.

D. You can say that something happened (past simple) in the middle of something else (past continuous):

  • Matt phoned while we were having dinner.
  • It was raining when I got up.
  • I saw you in the park yesterday. You were sitting on the grass and reading a book.
  • I hurt my back while I was working in the garden.

But we use the past simple to say that one thing happened after another:

  • I was walking along the road when I saw Dan. So I stopped, and we talked for a while.

Compare :

  • When Karen arrived, we were having dinner. (= we had already started before she arrived)
  • When Karen arrived, we had dinner. (= Karen arrived, and then we had dinner)

E. Some verbs (for example, know and want) are not normally used in continuous forms (is + -ing, was + -ing etc.). See Unit 4A for a list of these verbs

  • We were good friends. We knew each other well. (not we were knowing)
  • I was enjoying the party, but Chris wanted to go home. (not was wanting)

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