Past Continuous Tense

Study the following table about past continuous tense sentences:

subject + auxiliary verb “be” + main verb
conjugated in simple past tense present participle
I

We

was

were

base verb + ing

When forming a negative past continuous sentence, be sure to use the word “not” between the subject and the auxiliary verb. In order to form a  question, switch the subject and the auxiliary verb. Study the following table:

subject auxiliary verb main verb
+ We were shopping at the mall.
+ I was running a race.
She was not staying home.
They were not watching a movie.
? Was(auxiliary verb) Ann(subject) working hard?
? Were(auxiliary verb) we(subject) talking too loud?

When we are referring to an action that occurred at a specific time in the past, we use the past continuous tense. This is different from the simple past tense because the action started in the past but is not currently finished.

As an example, let us take these two sentences to form a past continuous sentence: Last week, I met my friend for lunch. We were having lunch at 12 pm.

I met my friend for lunch at 12 pm yesterday.
past present future
____ 12 pm ____
At 12 pm, we were still having lunch.

Take a look at the following examples:

  • My daughter was studying t 10 am this morning.
  • We were not sleeping at 11 pm last night.
  • Why were you not working at 1 pm yesterday?
  • Were you watching the police chase on the news at 6 pm last night?

Past Continuous Tense + Simple Past Tense

The past continuous tense and the simple past tense are often used together. Simple past tense is used to describe the short actions that happen while the past continuous tense is used to describe the long actions that are happening. The two tenses are joined together by using the words “when” and “while”.

Study the following example:

  • long action (exercising) in the past continuous tense
  • short action (dog barked) in the simple past tense
past present future
Long action: He was exercising at 11 am.
Short action: The doorbell rang at 11 am.

When we take these two actions and join them together, we are using the past continuous tense. Look at the following sentence:

  • He was exercising when the doorbell rang.

Use:

  • “when” with a short action, or in simple past tense
  • “while” with a long action, or in past continuous tense

Take a look at the following table. It shows four basic examples of sentence structures where simple past tense and past continuous tense join together:

I was sleeping when the storm started.
When the storm started I was sleeping.
The storm started while I was sleeping.
While I was sleeping The storm started.

Long actions and short actions are relative to one another:

  • Sleeping took more than a few moments, but it only took a moment for the storm to start.
  • Exercising took a couple of hours, but it only took a moment for the doorbell to ring.

Past Perfect Tense

Use the past perfect tense when you are talking about the past in the present. We use it to talk about the sequence of events that happened in the past.

How do we make the Past Perfect Tense?

Study the following table to study the rules of past perfect tense:

subject + auxiliary verb HAVE + main verb
conjugated in simple past tense past participle
had V3

Place the word “not” between the main and auxiliary verbs when you want to create negative sentences by using past perfect tense. If you want to ask a question, simply switch the place of the subject and auxiliary verb. Take a look at the following table:

subject auxiliary verb main verb
+ She had gone to a party.
+ I had studied hard.
We had not talked recently.
He had not emailed me.
? Had

(auxiliary verb)

they

(subject)

met before today?
? Had

(auxiliary verb)

you

(subject)

been here before?

We commonly connect the subject and the auxiliary verb with a contraction when we talk or write.

I had I’d
He had

She had

He’d

She’d

We had

They had

We’d

They’d

How Do We Use The Past Perfect Tense?

When we use the past perfect tense, we use it to discuss an action that happens in the past before another action. We also use it to discuss past events. Study the following examples. Notice how the first two sentences are combined into one sentence using the past perfect tense in the third example.

  • I woke up at 7 am.
  • I went to work at 9 am.
  • Before I went to work, I had woken up. (past perfect)
Before I went to work, I had woken up.
past present future
I went to work in the past at 9 am.
7 am   9 am

__________ _____________

I woke up in the past at 7 am.

Look at the following examples:

  • I had applied for the job before I had interviewed.
  • She had studied hard and passed the exam.
  • The dog had climbed under the fence.
  • He had challenged his brother to a race and won.
  • The baby had learned to crawl before she learned to walk.

The past perfect tense is sometimes confused with present perfect tense. The difference is that we are speaking of a time in the past that the event happened rather than now.

past perfect tense present perfect tense
had

danced

>

has

danced

>

___________ ______
past now future past now future

What would you say if your friend asked you to exercise with him?

You should say:

  • I have already exercised today.

Later, if he tells another friend about this event, he would say the following by using past perfect tense:

  • I asked Jason to exercise with me, but he had already exercised today.

When we use speech to report events, we usually use the past perfect tense. There are certain verbs, such as watched, missed, worked, told, and said that are used in this type of structure.

  • We had watched as the sun rose.
  • She had worked until late last night.
  • I had missed you when you were gone.
  • I had told them that this is only the beginning.
  • He had said that they spent the day at the park.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Use the past perfect continuous tense when you are talking about an event that started in the past and continues in the present. This tense is formed with the words “had been” and the present participle of the verb (when it ends in -ing).

Constructing the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Study the following table to learn how to create past perfect continuous tense:

subject + auxiliary verb HAVE + auxiliary verb BE + main verb
conjugated in simple past tense past participle present participle
had been base + ing

To create a negative sentence by using past perfect continuous tense, place the word “not” after the first auxiliary verb. We switch the places of the subject and the first auxiliary verb when we want to create a question by using the past perfect continuous tense. Take a look at the following table:

subject auxiliary verb auxiliary verb main verb
+ Janet had been dancing.
+ He had been sleeping.
We had not been traveling.
It had not been floating in the water.
? Had(auxiliary verb) they(subject) been singing?
? Had(auxiliary verb) he(subject) been partying?

We commonly connect the subject and the auxiliary verb with a contraction when we talk or write:

I had been I’d been
they had been they’d been
it had been

she had been

he had been

it’d been

she’d been

he’d been

you had been you’d been
we had been we’d been

Using the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The past perfect continuous tense resembles the past perfect tense. The difference is that it describes a longer action that happened in the past before another action happened.

Compare the following examples. Note how the third example is a combination of the first two by using the past perfect continuous tense.

  • My game started at 6 pm.
  • Greg’s game started at 8 pm.
  • By the time Greg’s game started, I had been playing my game for two hours. (past perfect continuous)
By the time Greg’s game started, I had been playing my game for two hours.
past present future
My game started at 6 pm in the past.
6 pm   8 pm

______________________________

Greg’s game started at 8 pm in the past.

Take a look at the following examples of the past perfect continuous tense:

  • She had given birth to her daughter.
  • He had received a raise at work after he had been promoted.
  • I had fallen asleep at my desk because I had been studying all night.
  • How long had he been travelling before he wrecked his car?

Sometimes we can confuse the past perfect continuous tense and the present perfect continuous tense. The past perfect continuous tense uses a past point of view instead of a present point of view.

Pretend your friend says this to you:

  • I wish you hadn’t worked out today. I have been looking forward to exercising with you.

Then later on, you say this to someone else:

  • Brendon wished I hadn’t worked out today. He had been wanting to exercise with me.

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