Understanding Past Progressive tense: Formation, Usage, and Signal Words

In English, the tense Past Progressive , also called Past Continuous tense, is used when referring to continuous actions in the past. This tense emphasizes the duration or permanence of an action in the past.

Below, we'll take a closer look at the Past Progressive tense and explain the formation and use of this English tense with some example sentences. We'll also give you a list of signal words that will show you when to use the Past Progressive tense.

The formation of the Past Progressive tense

To form the Past Progressive tense, you combine the auxiliary verb "to be" in the past tense ("was" or "were") with the verb in the gerund (-ing form). Here are a few verbs in the Past Continuous tense. This will give you a better feel for the bidding of the Past Continuous tense.

Past Progressive Example
I was talking I was talking to my friend on the phone when the power went out.
You were reading You were reading a novel while I was watching TV.
He was running He was running in the park when it started to rain.
She was walking She was walking her dog in the park when she saw her friend.
They were watching They were watching a sunset over the sea when a storm came up.

Fortunately, there are no irregularities in the past progressive tense, so you can easily learn this tense and use it with any kind of verb. You just need to familiarize yourself with the formation of the rounded and the past tense of the irregular verb "to be". Once you have internalized these basics, you will be able to use the past progressive tense in any situation.

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The use of the Past Progressive tense

The Past Progressive tense is used in English whenever you want to describe a state, action, or process in the past that lasted over a period of time. The purpose of this English past tense is to emphasize that a continuous state of affairs took place in the past.

Often, the Past Progressive tense is used to describe a background action that was interrupted by another action in the past. You can also use it to describe actions in the past that continued over a long period of time. In spoken English, the past progressive tense is also often used to describe a temporary action in the past. It does not necessarily have to have taken place over a long period of time.

Signal words for the past progressive tense with example sentences

Check out our list of signal words for the Past Continuous tense to find out more quickly in which situations you need to use the Past Continuous tense when speaking or writing in English. Please note, however, that the mere presence of these signal words does not mean that the Past Continuous tense will be used in all cases. They only serve as an indicator for the use of the Past Continuous tense.

Signal word Example
While While I was cooking dinner, my kids were doing their homework.
As As I was getting dressed, my phone rang.
At that moment I was playing video games at that moment.
At 8 o'clock yesterday At 8 o'clock yesterday, we were walking to school.
When When I was walking to the store, I saw my neighbour.
At the time At the time my train arrived, I was standing on the wrong platform.
All day yesterday I was studying all day yesterday.
During During my lunch break, I was talking to my colleagues.
In the middle of In the middle of the meeting, Dan was looking out of the window.
For hours For hours, I was studying maths last week.
At the same time I was eating dinner at the same time as my friend called me.
At noon yesterday At noon yesterday, Pete was finishing his task for the day.
Constantly The phone was ringing constantly.
Continually We continually were speaking about the new product line.
Still We were still watching the film we started an hour ago.

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