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Past Progressive Tense - Part 2

Past Progressive Tense - Part 2

 

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Past Progressive Tense - 2

 

 


Hello! In this lesson, we will continue learning how to use the past progressive tense. In a previous lesson, we learned how to form and use the past progressive tense. We learned that  the past progressive tense is used for actions that were ongoing in a past time. We learned that 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".

Now that we have see how to form and use the past progressive tense, let us listen to the dialog. In this dialog, David and Jennifer are discussing someone who came to the door.

David:  What were you doing when that salesperson came to the door?

Jennifer:  I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.

David:  I was sleeping when the doorbell rang.  

Jennifer:  The woman was walking away when I got to the door.

David:  But you were talking to her when I went downstairs.

Jennifer:  I wanted to know what she was selling.

David:  What was she selling?

Jennifer:  I don’t know.

David:  But you called her back when she was walking away!

Jennifer:  I know her. You came downstairs while we were talking.

In this conversation, David and Jennifer are discussing the event after it happened.

David starts the conversation by saying "What were you doing when that salesperson came to the door?". David wants to know what Jennifer was in the process of doing – what was ongoing – when her activity was interrupted by someone coming to the door. In this sentence, David's focus is on what Jennifer was doing when the salesperson came to the door.  He could also have asked, "When that salesperson came to the door, what were you doing? Putting the arrival of the salesperson in the first part of the sentence would somewhat shift the focus to the arrival of the salesperson and away from what Jennifer was doing, but Jennifer's answer would be the same either way.

Jennifer says "I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.". She could also say "When the doorbell rang, I was reading a book.".  Another way of expressing this thought is "The doorbell rang while I was reading a book.".  The word "while" means (translate: while).  or "While I was reading, the doorbell rang.". When we use the word "while", there is more emphasis on the ongoing activity.

David says "I was sleeping when the doorbell rang.". He could also have said "The doorbell rang while I was sleeping." or "When the doorbell rang, I was sleeping.".

Jennifer says "The woman was walking away when I got to the door.". She could also have said "When I got to the door, the woman was walking away.". Jennifer is emphasizing her part of the activity; that is, "when I got to the door.".

David counters "But you were talking to her when I went downstairs.".  This means that Jennifer was in the process of talking to the woman when David interrupted that activity of talking when he arrived downstairs.  He could also have said "When I went downstairs, you were talking to her.".

Jennifer says "I wanted to know what she was selling.". This sentence departs somewhat from the usual pattern of past progressive interrupted by a simple past tense. In this sentence, Jennifer wanted to know about the global activity that was occurring at that time. She could not have said "I wanted to know what she sold." because the woman was still in the process of selling something.

David asks "What was she selling?" Sometimes we use the past progressive with a specific time such as "at 6:00" or "at that time." In David's sentence, we can imagine the unspoken part of the sentence to be "at that time". So David's complete sentence would have been "What was she selling at that time?".

Jennifer answer "I don’t know." There are other ways of saying "I don’t know." She could have said "I don’t have any idea." or "I don’t have a clue." Or even "Who knows?".

David says "But you called her back when she was walking away!" During the ongoing time while the woman was walking away, Jennifer interrupted her process of walking away by calling the woman back. David could also have said "But you called her back while she was walking away!" or simply "But you called her back!".

Jennifer explains  "I know her. You came downstairs while we were talking.". Since this story takes place in the past, Jennifer might have said "I knew her.". But since Jennifer presumably still knows the woman, she uses the simple present tense for the constant truth that it represents.

Jennifer could have said "I knew who she was." or "She is a friend of mine." or "I recognized her." or "She looked familiar.". Then she says "You came downstairs while we were talking.". This means that the ongoing action of talking to the woman was interrupted when David came downstairs. The action of David's coming downstairs is a briefer action. Although he might have stayed downstairs for a long time, the action of coming downstairs was a brief occurrence and then it over, while the process of Jennifer talking to the woman was ongoing and longer-lasting.  

Now that we know how to form and use the past progressive, let us listen to the dialog again.  Imagine the ongoing action in the past when Jennifer and David use the past progressive tense. Imagine the ongoing past action being interrupted by actions in the simple past tense.

David:  What were you doing when that salesperson came to the door?

Jennifer:  I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.

David:  I was sleeping when the doorbell rang.  

Jennifer:  The woman was walking away when I got to the door.

David:  But you were talking to her when I went downstairs.

Jennifer:  I wanted to know what she was selling.

David:  What was she selling?

Jennifer:  I don’t know.

David:  But you called her back when she was walking away!

Jennifer:  I know her. You came downstairs while we were talking.

Great! You now have a good understanding of the usage of the past progressive. Practice using it in your conversations in English.