UNIT 6. Past continuous (I was doing)
A. Study this example situation:
Yesterday Karen and Jim played tennis. They began at 10 o’clock and finished at 11.30. So, at 10.30 they were playing tennis.
They were playing = ‘they were in the middle of playing’. They had not finished playing.
Was/were ~ing is the past continuous:
I/he/she/it was playing/doing/working etc.
we/you/they were playing/doing/working etc.
B. We use the past continuous to say that somebody was in the middle of doing something at a certain time. The action or situation had already started before this time but had not finished:
* This time last year I was living in Brazil.
* What were you doing at 10 o’clock last night?
* I waved to her but she wasn’t looking.
C. Compare the past continuous (I was doing) and past simple (I did):
Past continuous (in the middle of an action)
* I was walking home when I met Dave.
(= in the middle of walking home)
* Ann was watching television when the phone rang.
Past simple (complete action)
* I walked home after the party last night. (= all the way, completely)
* Ann watched television a lot when she was ill last year.
D. We often use the past simple and the past continuous together to say that something happened in the middle of something else:
* Tom burnt his hand when he was cooking the dinner.
* I saw you in the park yesterday. You were sitting on the grass and reading a book.
* While I was working in the garden, I hurt my back.
But we use the past simple to say that one thing happened after another:
* I was walking along the road when I saw Dave. So I stopped and we had a chat.
* When Karen arrived, we were having dinner. (= We had already started dinner before Karen arrived.)
* When Karen arrived, we had dinner. (= First Karen arrived and then we had dinner.)
E. There are some verbs (for example, know/want/believe) that are not normally used in the continuous:
* We were good friends. We knew each other well. (not ‘we were knowing’)
* I was enjoying the party but Chris wanted to go home. (not ‘was wanting’)