What Is the Past Progressive Tense? (with Examples)

What Is the Past Progressive Tense? (with Examples)

The past progressive tense is used to describe an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.

Examples of the Past Progressive Tense

The past progressive tense can be used to describe an activity in the past which was interrupted:
  • He was painting the door when a bird struck the window.
  • They were sleeping when the alarm went off.
You can also have a negative version:
  • He wasn't painting the door when a bird struck the window.
  • They weren't sleeping when the alarm went off.
And the question version:
  • Was he painting the door when a bird struck the window?
  • Were they sleeping when the alarm went off?
The past progressive tense can also be used for describing an action taking place when another occurred.
  • While they were painting the door, I painted the windows.
  • While they weren't painting the door, I painted the windows.
  • Were they painting the door when I painted the windows?
  • Weren't they painting the door when I painted the windows?
And, it can be used for describing an action which was taking place at the same time as another:
  • While they were painting the door, I was painting the windows.

Infographic for the Past Progressive Tense

Here is an infographic explaining the past progressive tense:

past progressive tense

Forming the Past Progressive Tense

Here are the spelling rules for forming the past progressive tense.

The past progressive tense is formed like this:

For singular:

was + [verb] + ing

For plural:

were + [verb] + ing

The [verb] + "ing" part is known as a present participle. It is formed like this:

Add "ing" to most verbs:
  • play > playing
  • shout > shouting

For verbs that end "e", remove the "e" and add "ing":
  • prepare > preparing
  • ride > riding

For verbs that end "ie", change the "ie" to "y" and add "ing":
  • lie > lying
  • untie > untying

For verbs whose last syllable is written [consonant-vowel-consonant] and is stressed, double the final consonant and add "ing":
  • run > running
  • forget > forgetting

Verb Tense Widget

Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , you can click it!

The Other Past Tenses

The past progressive tense is one of four past tenses. They are:

The 4 Past Tenses Example
simple past tense I went
past progressive tense I was going
past perfect tense I had gone
past perfect progressive tense I had been going
Interactive Test
 

See Also

Take a test on the past progressive tense Tenses Simple past tense Past progressive tense
Past perfect tense Past perfect progressive tense Simple present tense Present progressive tense Present perfect tense Present perfect progressive tense Simple future tense Future progressive tense Future perfect tense Future perfect progressive tense Glossary of grammatical terms