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English Past Progressive

aka Past Continuous

The English past progressive indicates that something was in progress or continued for a time in the past and ended before another reference point in the past. It is conjugated with was or were plus the present participle.

The past progressive is used

  • to express an action that was ongonig when another action interrupted it:
    • While we were having dinner, the doorbell rang.

Note the use of two different past tenses: the continuous, background action of having dinner (in the past progressive) and the one-time action - the doorbell ringing - interrupting it (in the simple past).

  • for multiple actions occurring at the same time:
    • While I was watching TV, my wife was reading her book.

  • as the only verb in a sentence referring to a continuing action at a point in time or during a period of time:
    • What were you doing at 9pm last night? I was having dinner.
    • was sleeping from midnight until 7am.

  • in if-clauses of conditional sentences using would, where the present state or action is unreal:
    • I would be happier if I were losing weight.

  • in indirect speech, to refer to future planned events in the past:
    • When we told James that we were going to the party next Saturday, he just laughed.
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