Lesson Nine: Past Tense vs. Past Continuous Tense

Lesson Nine:

Past Tense vs. Past Continuous Tense

Past tense: I went to work yesterday. (main verb: go)

Past tense negative: I didn’t go to work on Sunday. (main verb: go)

Past continuous tense: I was eating my breakfast when the phone rang. (main verb: eat)

Past continuous tense negative: I wasn’t eating anything when the phone rang. (main verb: eat)

The past continuous tense is often used to show one or more past actions.


boy playing in sand

What was the boy doing at the park?

He was making sand castles.

The boy was making sand castles while playing in the sand.

This boy made sand castles while he was playing in the sand.

As you can see below, the past tense is an alternative to the past continuous tense:

I was drinking coffee while I was working on my computer.

sounds better than…

I drank my coffee when I worked on my computer

....because there’s some activity.

teacher drinking coffee

You were taking English classes when you visited the United States.


You took English classes when you visited the United States.

(Both verb tenses are okay)


He was talking on his cell phone while he was walking to work.


While he was walking to work, he was talking on his cell phone.

(Many sentences that use “while” are continuous)

Past tense:

He talked on the phone an hour ago.

businessman on the phone

She was talking on the phone while she was drinking coffee.


She was talking on the phone while drinking coffee.

(Notice “she” is missing from the second sentence. That’s okay.)

woman on cell phone

It was snowing when this man went out to shovel his driveway.

(“It” refers to the weather.)


We were standing in my classroom when this picture was taken.

(“was taken” is passive voice–not continuous. Notice the difference?)

miho and teacher
You were riding on the bus.
They were riding their bikes through downtown Minneapolis.
biking in Minneapolis


Part A.
Directions: Complete each question and answer in the past continuous tense or the past tense. Use the verbs in parentheses to fill in the blanks. (10 points)
1a. What __________ you ___________ when the phone ___________? (do / ring)
1b. I ___________ ______________. (sleep)
2a. What __________ she ___________ before she ___________ the phone. (do / answer)
2b. She ___________ ___________ the dishes. (do)
3a. Where ___________ John ___________ before he ___________ to Houston? (live / move)
3b. He __________ ___________ in Miami. (live)
4a. What kind of a car ___________ the thieves ____________ after they ___________ the house? (drive / leave)
4b. They __________ ____________ a 2008 Chevy Malibu. (drive)
5a. What ___________ everyone ___________ about after the election _________ over. (talk / be)
5b. They ___________ ___________ about what the President will probably do in the next few months. (talk)
Part B.
Directions: Use either the past continuous tense or the past tense in each question or sentence. Some verbs are negative. (10 points)
1. Why __________ you ___________ me last night? (call — negative)
2. She ___________ _____________ when the teacher called on her for an answer to a question. (listen — negative)
3. What kind of food were you eating when you ____________ in Sri Lanka? (live)
4. How many people ____________ they _____________ yesterday? (call)
5. Why __________ the young man ____________ more cooperative with the police? (be — negative)
6. I ___________ ____________ it was raining. (know — negative)
7. You mother ___________ ____________ to get ahold of you on your cell phone. (try)
8. How long ___________ the house _____________ on the market before it sold? (stay)
9. We ___________ ____________ so much fun at the party that we didn’t want to leave. (have)
10. Nobody ____________ the old man get up off the ground after he fell. (help)



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