Using the past continuous at CEFR Level B1. The past continuous (also known as the past progressive) is used to talk about things that were in progress in the past. We have already looked at this in Level A2, but in this lesson, we will look at some additional uses of the past continuous.
Before we move on, let’s review the rules we looked at in Level A2. Here are some examples of the present continuous:
- He was washing his hands when the phone rang.
- We were singing and they were dancing all night.
The past continuous is formed by using was / were + [base verb] (without ‘to’) + ing.
Uses of past continuous:
- To talk about an activity in progress at a particular time in the past
- To talk about two actions happening at the same time in the past
- To talk about a longer activity that was interrupted by a shorter activity
- To give a background to an event
Past continuous use #1:
To talk about an activity in progress at a particular time in the past
- This time last week, I was relaxing on the beach.
The particular time is ‘this time last week’, and we are referring to an activity (relaxing).
Past continuous use #2:
To talk about two actions happening at the same time in the past
- Last night I was cooking dinner while my friends were watching television.
Using was cooking and were watching tells the listener that both actions were happening at the same time.
Past continuous use #3:
To talk about a longer activity that was interrupted by a shorter activity
- I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.
The longer activity = ‘was reading a book’
The interruption or shorter activity = ‘the doorbell rang‘
We would not say:
I was reading a book when the doorbell
This would mean that the two actions were happening together over the same length of time.
Past continuous use #4:
To give a background to an event
- It was a quiet night. The moon was shining and the wind was blowing gently.
In this example, you are simply describing the background of what was happening that night