The past progressive tense or past continuous construction combines progressive aspect with past tense, and is formed using the past tense of be (was or were) with the present participle of the main verb. It is used to indicate action which was ongoing at the past time being considered.

In this page, I will explain step by step the following points:

  1. How to form the past progressive tense.
  2. When to use the past progressive tense.

How to form the past progressive tense:

The affirmative form:
 
We form the past progressive tense by combining  verb to be in the past simple tense was/were) plus the base form of the infinitive (without the ‘TO’ of infinitive) with the present participle (The present participle is simply the “-ing” form of a verb).
Subject
Verb to be in the past simple tense
Verb
Present Participle (+ing)
The Rest of the sentence
I
was
cook
Ing
sausage at home
You
were
cook
Ing
sausage at home
He / She / It
was
cook
Ing
sausage  at home
We/You/They
were
cook
Ing
sausage at home
1. For verbs that end in ‘E’ we delete the ‘E’ and then we add ‘ING’.
  • Close– Closing
  • Write– Writing
  • Drive– Driving
2. For verbs that end in a ‘IE’ we change the ‘IE’ into ‘Y’ then we add ‘ING’.
  • Die– Dying
  • Lie– Lying
  • Tie– Tying
3. For verbs that end in a ‘C’ we add ‘K’ then ‘ING’.
  • Panic– Panicking
  • Picnic– Picnicking
  • Mimic– Mimicking

4. For verbs with one syllable that end in a ‘CVC’ we double the last consonant then we add ‘ING’ .

  • Shop– Shopping
  • Run– Running
  • Plan– Planning
Negative form:
 
To make a negative sentence in English (Present Progressive Tense) we generally use wasn’t / weren’t.
 
Affirmative: I was playing chess and brain games.
Negative: I was not playing chess and brain games.
 
As you can notice we simply add ‘not’ between verb ‘to be’ and the verb.
Subject
Verb to be in the present simple tense
Negation
Verb
Present Participle (+ing)
The Rest of the sentence
I
was
not
cook
Ing
sausage at home
You
were
not
cook
Ing
sausage at home
He / She / It
was
not
cook
Ing
sausage  at home
We/You/They
were
not
cook
Ing
sausage at home

 Interrogative form:

Yes/no questions are also formed using the auxiliary ‘to be’. But, pay attention this time, the auxiliary is placed before the subject:

Auxiliary
           Subject
     Example
Was
I
Was I smoking?
Were
you
    Were you smoking?
Was
he
 Was he smoking?
Was
she
   Was she smoking?
Was
it
Was it smoking?
Were
we
   Were we smoking?
Were
  they
     Were they smoking?

WH- questions (questions starting with Wh-words such as “what”, “who”, “why”, “when” and “where”) are also created by putting  the auxiliary be before the subject:

Statement
Yes/no question
WH- question
I was eating cherries
Was I eating cherries?
What was I eating?
You were playing guitar.
Were you playing guitar?
Where were you playing guitar?
He was preparing some French fries.
Was he preparing some French fries?
Why was he preparing some French fries?

When to use  the Past progressive tense:

1/ Puts emphasis on the course of an action in the past

  • He was playing football.

2/ Two actions happening at the same time (in the past)

  •   While she was preparing dinner, he was washing the dishes.

 3/  Action going on at a certain time in the past

  • When I was having breakfast, the phone suddenly rang.

Signal Words of Past Progressive:

when, while, as long as

Verbs that are not used in the progressive form:

The following verbs are generally only used in the simple form, even if they take place at the moment of speaking.

  • stative verbs: be, cost, fit, mean, remain, suit

Example: The meal was salty.

  • verbs that indicate possession/belonging: belong, have

Example: I didn’t have a lot of cousins.

  • verbs of sensory perception: feel, hear, see, smell, taste, touch

Example: I saw many girls.

  • verbs that express feelings: hate, hope, like, love, prefer, regret, want, wish

Example: My friends wanted to meet my legendary granny.

  • verbs of thought and recognition: believe, know, realise, recognise, seem, think, understand

Example: I thought they would be working seriously all day.

  • clauses accompanying direct speech: answer, ask, reply, say

Example: “We are eating all day nonstop,” my friends said.