The past continuous is formed from the past tense of be with the -ing form of the verb:

We use the past continuous to talk about the past:

For something which continued before and after another action:

  • The children were doing their homework when I got home.


  • I got home. The children did their homework.


  • The children did their homework when I got home.

As I was watching television the telephone rang.

This use of the past continuous is very common at the beginning of a story:

  • The other day I was waiting for a bus when …
  • Last week as I was driving to work …

For something that happened before and after a particular time:

  • It was eight o’clock. I was writing a letter.


  • At eight o’clock I wrote some letters.


  • In July she was working in McDonald’s.

To show that something continued for some time:

  • My head was aching.
  • Everyone was shouting.

For something that was happening again and again:

  • I was practising every day, three times a day.
  • They were meeting secretly after school.
  • They were always quarrelling.

With verbs which show change or growth:

  • The children were growing up quickly.
  • Her English was improving.
  • My hair was going grey.
  • The town was changing quickly.