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Unit 12 Past Continuous (I was doing)

1. Study this example situation:

Yesterday Tom and Jim played tennis. they began at 10 o'clock and finished at 11 o'clock.

What were they doing at 10.30?
They were playing tennis (at 10.30).

'They were playing' means that they were in the middle of playing tennis. they had started playing but they hadn't finished.

This is the past continuous tense:

I/he/she was
we/they/you were

We use the past continuous to say that someone was in the middle of doing something at a certain time. The action or situation had already started before this time but hadn't finished.
  • This time last year I was living in Brazil.
  • What were you doing at 10 o/clock last night?
2. The past continuous does not tell us whether as action was finished or not. Perhaps it was finished, perhaps not. Compare:
  • Tom was cooking the dinner. (past continuous) = He was in the middle of cooking the dinner and we don't know whether he finished cooking ti.
  •  Tom cooked the dinner. (past tnse) = he began and finished it.
3. We often use the past continuous (I was doing) and the past simple (I did) together to say that something happened in the middle of something else:
  • Tom burnt his hand when he was cooking the dinner.
  • I saw Jim in the park. He was sitting on the grass and reading a book.
  • It was raining when I got up.
  • While I was working in the garden, I hurt my back.
But to say that one thing happened after another, use the past simple:
Yesterday evening Tom was having a bath when the phone rang. He got out of the bath and answer the phone.

Compare:
  • When Tom arrived, we were having dinner. (past continuous). = We had already started dinner before Tom arrived.
  •  When Tom arrived, we had dinner. (past simple) = Tom arriver and then we had dinner.
Note: There are some verbs (for example know) which are not normally used in continuous tense. For a list of these verbs see Unit 3.

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