HOW TO FORM IT: The past continuous tense is made with the verb "to be" and the "-ing" form of the verb.
THE BIG PICTURE: Use it when an action was in process or unfinished at a certain time in the past. "Continuous" means something that continues - or goes on for a period of time.
RULES OF THUMB:
Use this tense to express:
- Repeated actions in the past.
- Joe and Mary were always hanging out by the coffee machine and chatting.
Note: when you have the word "always" referring to past tense action, you will almost ALWAYS use the continuous tense!
Interrupted action in the past. Something was happening and a second action came along and interrupted it.
- Tanya was reading the newspaper when her friend called and suggested they go out to dinner.
- While Tanya was reading the newspaper, her friend called.
Note: The words "while" and "when" will often signal the need for the past continuous tense. "When" introduces the new action that interrupts the action in process. The action in process takes the continuous tense, while the new action take the simple past tense. "While" introduces the activity in process so it takes the continuous tense.
More than one thing happening at the same time in the past (also called: parallel actions).
- The administrative assistants were chatting by the coffee machine, the president was typing on his computer, and the marketing associates were having a meeting in the conference room.