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I. The Formation

The Past Continuous is formed by means of the Past Indefinite of the auxiliary verb ''to be'' and Participle I of the notional verb.

In the interrogative form the auxiliary verb is placed before the subject.

In the negative form the negative particle 'not' is placed after the auxiliary verb.

  • I was reading.
  • Were you reading?
  • I was not reading.


II. The Use.The Past Continuous is used:

1) to denote an action going on at a definite moment in the past. We do not mention when the action started or finished. The moment of time may be indicated either by another past action expressed by a verb in the Past Simple or by an adverbial phrase. The definite moment is often not expressed directly. It may be shown by the previous context or understood from the situation. And if there are two or more actions in progress at the same time in the past we use the Past Continuous with them all:

· At midnight he was still working.

· He did not notice what was going on around him, he was reading.

· She was talking on her mobile phone while she was driving to work.

2) to denote temporary actions in the past:

· He was staying at the hotel.

· During my training I was earning less than my wife.

· He knew he was being rude but he could not stop.

Note: The Past Continuous is often used with such phrases as the whole day, the whole month, all day long, from ... till... It can be applied only to a single action which is not part of a succession of actions.

· They were working all day long.


3) to denote developing or changing actions in the past.

· Her symptoms were becoming more pronounced each day.


4) annoying actions in the past (with always, ever, constantly). Such sentences are emotionally coloured. That means that the actions happened repeatedly and unexpectedly or in an unplanned and unpleasant way.

· He was constantly losing things.

· Aunt Lucy was always turning up without warning and bringing us presents.

· I didn’t like him – he was continually borrowing money.

5) to make requests, suggestions and questions more tentative and polite. We often use the verbs think and wonder:

· We were wondering if you would like to join us. (=Would you like to join us?)

· Were you planning on going somewhere else later? (=Are you planning on ...?)


The Past Continuous is often used in sentences where the Past Simple is also used:

1) to denote an action which was in progress when another action interrupted it. We use the Past Continuous for the action in progress (longer action) and the Past Simple for the action which interrupted it (shorter action).

· He was walking down the street when he ran into an old friend.

3) to describe the atmosphere, setting, etc. in the introduction to a story (background events) before we describe the main events.

· One beautiful autumn afternoon Ben was strolling down a quiet country lane. The birds were singing and the leaves were rustling in the breeze.

Note 1: Because we often use the Past Continuous to talk about something that is a “background”, not the main “news”, we can make something seem less important by using this tense. This gives more relative importance to the following verb – to what is said Compare:

· I had lunch with the President yesterday. (important piece of news)

· I was having lunch with the President yesterday, and she said... (as if there was nothing special for the speaker about lunching with the President)

The Past Continuous is also used to denote future actions viewed from the past:

a) past arrangements, usually with verbs of motion. The arranged event may or may not have taken place:

· He said he was travelling in a week.

· I said quickly, '' She was coming to tea yesterday afternoon''.

b) in adverbial clauses of time and condition often after the conjunction while.

· He said he would stay in the car while I was talking with the nurse.


Date: 2015-12-17; view: 2258

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III. The Present Perfect Continuous and the Present Perfect as variants. | III. The Past Perfect vs. the Past Simple
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