The past continuous is also known as the past progressive tense.
- He was washing his hands when the phone rang.
- We were singing and they were dancing all night.
Past continuous form:
was / were + [verb -to] + ing
Uses of past continuous:
1. To talk about an activity in progress at a particular time in the past
2. To talk about two actions happening at the same time in the past
3. To talk about a longer activity that was interrupted by a shorter activity
4. To give a background to an event
Past continuous use #1:
To talk about an activity in progress at a particular time in the past
- This time last week, I was relaxing on the beach.
The particular time is ‘this time last week’, and we are referring to an activity (relaxing).
Past continuous use #2:
To talk about two actions happening at the same time in the past
- Last night I was cooking dinner while my friends were watching television.
Using was cooking and were watching tells the listener that both actions were happening at the same time.
Past continuous use #3:
To talk about a longer activity that was interrupted by a shorter activity
- I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.
The longer activity = ‘was reading a book’
The interruption or shorter activity = ‘the doorbell rang‘
We would not say:
I was reading a book when the doorbell
This would mean that the two actions were happening together over the same length of time.
Past continuous use #4:
To give a background to an event
- It was a quiet night. The moon was shining and the wind was blowing gently.
In this example, you are simply describing the background of what was happening that night.