Past Progressive Tense
In order to construct the Past Progressive Tense (also called Past Continuous) you need a form of to BE in the past tense (was/were) and the base form of a verb plus the suffix "-ing".
e.g. read > I was reading / they were reading
The Past Progressive Tense is used to describe a long action in the past, which might be interrupted by a short action (in Past Simple).
e.g. While my parents were watching TV in the living room, my brother came home.
Certain signal words indicate the use of the Past Progressive Tense. These include:
while / when
e.g. I was taking a shower, when the telephone rang.
e.g. While I was taking a shower, the telephone rang.
Furthermore, the Past Progressive Tense is used to describe parallel actions in the past, i.e. to express that two actions were happening at the same time.
e.g. While I was working on my assignment, my sister was reading a book.
Apart from that, the Past Progressive Tense is also used to describe a repetition in the past.
e.g. Sam was constantly coming too late.
Last but not least, the Past Progressive Tense is used to indicate that an activity was in progress, which means changing or developing.
e.g. Your English was improving quickly.
It is important to remember that some verbs can neither be used in the Present Progressive nor in the Past Progressive Tense. These include
- abstract verbs: be, need, want, ...
- emotion verbs: love, like, hate, ...
- possession verbs: own, possess, ...
e.g. He is liking chocolate. > INCORRECT!!
Use the Present Simple Tense instead! > He likes chocolate.
e.g. He was needing her help last weekend. > INCORRECT!!
Use the Past Simple Tense instead! > He needed her help last weekend.
Past Simple Tense
Whereas the Past Progressive Tense emphasizes the duration of an action, the Past Simple is used to refer to an event which happened in the past without indicating its long duration.
Notice the difference of the following two sentences:
Jane worked in a coffee shop last summer.
Jane was working in a coffee shop last summer.
Asking questions in the Past Progressive Tense is fairly easy, as it does not require an auxiliary verb. In general, questions in English are constructed as follows:
yes/no questions: Verb(1) - Subject - Verb(2)
extended questions: Question Word - Verb(1) - Subject - Verb(2)
This word order also applies to questions in the Present Progressive Tense.
yes/no questions: e.g. Were you working on the computer yesterday?
extended questions: e.g. Why were you drinking so much?
Only in case you ask for the subject by using "who" or "what", the word order is slightly changed.
asking for the subject: WHO / WHAT - Verb(1) - Verb(2)
e.g. Who was watching TV yesterday?