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Past Progressive Tense

Past Progressive Tense

 

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Past Progressive Tense -1

 


Hello! In this lesson, we will learn to use the past progressive tense. In a previous lesson, we learned to use the present progressive tense. We learned that the present progressive tense is used for actions that are ongoing in the present time. Similarly, the past progressive tense is used for actions that were ongoing in a past time.

We learned earlier that the present progressive is formed with a present form of the verb "to be" and a form of the main verb that ends with "-ing". Similarly, the past progressive tense is formed with a past form of the verb "to be" and a form of the main verb that ends in "-ing".

The past progressive tense is often used in one part of a sentence, while the simple past tense past is used in another part of the sentence.  The two parts are conjoined by the use of the word "when" or "while". This usage anchors the past progressive in time, and tells what was going on when a specific action occurred.  

Imagine this situation: David is cooking dinner. While he is preparing dinner, the telephone rings. The next day, he tells Jennifer: "I was cooking dinner when the phone rang.".This sentence means that David's action of cooking dinner was ongoing, and that ongoing action was interrupted by the ring of the telephone.

Here are some other examples of the past progressive tense.

"Mrs. Smith was driving down Rose Street when a dog ran into the street."

"Jennifer was talking to her friend when a woman came to the door."

"David and Jennifer were eating dinner when Jennifer dropped her knife."

"The children were playing when it started to rain."

"The phone rang while I was sleeping."

"I heard a strange noise while I was watching TV."

We see that the actions that were occurring in the first part of the sentences were ongoing when they were interrupted by another action which occurred and did not keep occurring. For example, in the first sentence, "Mrs. Smith was driving down Rose Street when a dog rain into the street.".

You may point out that the second action kept occurring – the dog continued to run. That is true, but the dog did not continue to run into the street. The dog ran into the street only once, and then it was finished running into the street.  

In the second sentence, a woman came to the door. While she might have stood at the door for awhile, she came to the door and interrupted the ongoing activity only once.

In the third sentence,  Jennifer dropped her knife. As soon as the knife left her hand, she was finished dropping it.

In the fourth sentence, it started to rain. While it might have continued raining, it only started to rain once and then it was finished starting to rain. So the point of interruption expressed in the simple past tense, while the ongoing activity in the past is expressed in the past progressive tense.

In the sentence "The phone rang while I was sleeping.", the ongoing activity of sleeping is interrupted by the phone ringing. The thought could also be expressed by the sentence "While I was sleeping, the phone rang.". The word "while" is used only with an ongoing activity.  The thought could also be expressed bythe sentence "The phone rang while I was sleeping.".or I I was sleeping when the phone rang.".

In the sentence, "Jennifer heard a strange noise while she was watching TV.", Jennifer was in the process of watching TV. That process was interrupted when Jennifer heard a strange noise.  The same thought could be expressed by the sentence "Jennifer was watching TV when she heard a strange noise." or "While Jennifer was watching TV, she heard a strange noise.".

Sometimes we use a specific time as the point of interruption. In this sentence, we see that "at 6:00" is a specific time which figuratively interrupts the action.

"At 6:00, we were eating dinner."
In the following sentence, "at this time last night" is the point of interruption, although no past ongoing action is really interrupted.

"At this time last night, we were watching our favorite TV program."
Similarly, in the following sentence, the phrase "at this time last year" is the point of interruption, although no past ingoing action is really interrupted except in an imaginary way.

"At this time last year, we were traveling in France."

Sometimes one ongoing action in the past is parallel to another ongoing action in the past.  

Look at these sentences, where the two ongoing actions in the past were going on side by side, at the same time.

"While Jennifer was cooking, David was setting the table."

"While David was sleeping, Jennifer was talking on the phone."

"While David and Jennifer were driving to Oklahoma, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were working in their offices."

Now you have an understanding of how to form and use the past progressive tense. In the next lesson, we will listen to a dialog in which Jennifer and David use the past progressive tense.