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Present Continuous vs Simple Past

Practice Exercises



Quick Overview

The Past Continuous

The Past Continuous is used for ongoing actions at a specified time. This can be:

• an action in the past that extends over a longer period of time: Two hours later we were still waiting for the bus.

• two actions in the past that run simultaneously and last for a while: My colleague was meeting the customer while I was talking on the phone.

• a first action that takes place, and which is then interrupted by a new (second) action: While I was talking to a customer on the phone, a new email came in.


The Past Continuous can also be used for habitual actions in the past

• usually with adverbs like: all the time, always, constantly, forever, frequently, occasionally, often, perpetually, rarely, seldom, sometimes, usually ... Before I found this website, I was constantly making spelling mistakes.


The Past Continuous can also be used for the set up for a story

It was a beautiful morning. The birds were singing and the flowers were gently swaying in the wind.


• in affirmative sentences: subject + "was" or "were" + past participle →  I was reading a book the whole morning.

• in negative sentences: subject + "was" or "were" + not + past participle →  I was not listening to the speaker.

• in positive questions: [Question word +] "was" or "were" + subject + past participle. → Where was he looking all this time?

• in negative questions: [Question word +] "was" or "were" + subject [+ not] + past participle.

a) "was" or "were" + subject + not + past participle →  Were you not listening to the speaker?

b) "wasn't" or "weren't" + subject + past participleWeren't you listening to the speaker?

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