This post will look at when to use the past continuous and the past
simple. It will give you a summary of the two tenses together along with
some interesting ways to to help you to try and remember when to use
them. I have also included some exercises and a quizz to help you
For a detailed look at how the Past Simple is formed you can see this here – Past Simple
For a detailed look at how the Past Continuous is formed you can see this here. This also includes when not to use it – Past Continuous
1. The past simple is used for completed actions in the past at a
specific time. This specific time might or might not be mentioned.
2. It is used for a duration that starts and stops in the past.
3. It is used for habits in the past.
Advanced note: This is similar to ‘used to’ e.g. I used to play football everyday
4. It is also used for past facts or generalizations.
1. Action in progress at a specific time in the past.
Extra Note: A good example of this on television is when you hear
the police interview a suspect, ‘What were you doing on the night of
2. Two actions that were happening at the same time.
1. Interrupted actions.
The past continuous is used to show that a longer action in the past was interrupted by another action (past simple). Notice the use of ‘when’
2. The Past Continuous is used to give the background of an action, followed by the Past Simple to show what actions followed.
We keep using the past simple to say that one thing happened after another e.g., I was walking i the park when I saw Bill. I stopped and we talked about the party. Then he had to go.
1. Answer the following questions;
What did you do last night?
What did you do at the weekend?
What were you doing at 3am this morning?
What were you doing at 3pm on Sunday?
What were you like when you were 12?
2. Finish the following statements
I was walking by the river when..
I was watching television when..
This time last week I was..
Past Simple and Continuous QUIZ – Test your knowledge of the Past Simple and Past Continuous