How do we use the Past Continuous Tense?
The past continuous tense expresses action at a particular moment in the past. The action started before that moment but has not finished at that moment. For example, yesterday I watched a film on TV. The film started at 7pm and finished at 9pm.
When we use the past continuous tense, our listener usually knows or understands what time we are talking about. Look at these examples:
Some verbs cannot be used in continuous/progressive tenses.
We often use the past continuous tense to "set the scene" in stories. We use it to describe the background situation at the moment when the action begins. Often, the story starts with the past continuous tense and then moves into the simple past tense. Here is an example:
" James Bond was driving through town. It was raining. The wind was blowing hard. Nobody was walking in the streets. Suddenly, Bond saw the killer in a telephone box..."
Past Continuous Tense + Simple Past Tense
We often use the past continuous tense with the simple past tense. We use the past continuous tense to express a long action. And we use the simple past tense to express a short action that happens in the middle of the long action. We can join the two ideas with when or while.
In the following example, we have two actions:
We can join these two actions with when:
(Notice that "when you telephoned" is also a way of defining the time [8pm].)
There are four basic combinations:
Notice that the long action and short action are relative.