Past Progressive


You may already know the present progressive that talks about continuous actions happening right now. The past progressive is used to talk about actions that took place over a period of time in the past - we could say: continuous actions of the past.

How to Form the Past Progressive

past tense of "to be" + present participle (-ing form)

The past tense of "to be" is:

I was    you were    he/she/it was    we were    you were    they were

To learn more about the present participle (-ing form), please read this article: Present Participle.

I was drinking wine.
You were reading the paper.
He was slurping hot chocolate.
They were stealing apples.

How to Use the Past Progressive

1. A continuous action in the past

The past progressive can be used to express that something was in progress at a certain time in the past.


She was looking at the jewelry in the window the entire afternoon.
The baby was sleeping during the entire night.

2. One action being interrupted by another

The past progressive can also be used when one action in the past was interrupted by another.


I was cutting the hedge in the garden when Jack called to invite me for dinner.
We were enjoying our Sunday picnic when the earthquake struck.
I was doing the dishes when suddenly the dog jumped into the sink.

3. Two or more actions taking place simultaneously over a period of time in the past

The past progressive can also be used to describe two or more simultaneous continuous actions in the past. Think of a parallel timeline.


Jonathan was ironing while Mathilda was making dinner.
The music was playing, and John was singing along.
The cake was still steaming while Anne's mouth was watering.

4. Habits and repeated actions you disapprove of

If something regularly annoyed you in the past, you can also use the past progressive to talk about it - usually in connection with "always".


Mrs Winston was always chewing gum.
Martin was always hassling me for cigarettes.
Mary Lou was always doing her make-up - in class, on the bus, and in the cafeteria.
Hans was always studying English when I wanted to play with him.