Grammar Grammar Glossary 2017-08-02 00:00

Know Your Tenses: Past Progressive

Past progressive what, you say? Tense, that is! Yes, there is a past progressive tense to help writers explain something that was happening and continued happening at some point in the past.

  1. Construction
  2. Generalities to know
  3. How does past progressive differ from simple past?
  4. Share your comments!


How do you build the past progressive tense? Simply use the "to be" helping verb in the past tense and add on the present participle of the verb with an "-ing" on the end.

If this sounds complicated, it's actually not. Here are some examples:

  • I was hiking through the woods yesterday when I stumbled upon a bear and her cubs.

  • The cast members were rushing around back stage trying to find the diva's wig.

  • Maria was clamoring exhaustively for the teacher's attention.

It's easy to build when you know the parts:

Past "to be" helping verb: was, were.

Present participle + "-ing": speaking, driving, thinking, seeking, chopping, etc.

Generalities to know

Past progressive tense generally uses dynamic verbs that show action. Static verbs sound funny when you try to squeeze them into past progressive tense. For example, you wouldn't say:

  • My brother was belonging to the freemasons.

  • I was believing you would show up on time.

  • They were preferring the Eggs Benedict.

How does past progressive differ from simple past?

Simple past tense discusses something that happened before and it's done now. Past progressive talks about something that was happening before for a period of time.

Here's a great example of simple past and past progressive in the same sentence:

  • While I was relaxing in the hot tub, I dropped my book, and it sank to the bottom.

For this example, I might have been relaxing in my hot tub for several hours after dinner, say from 7:00pm to 10:00pm (past progressive tense happens during a time period). At 9:38pm (past tense and it's done), I dropped my book into the water. I hate it when that happens.

Clear as bisque, right? If you need a quick primer on verb tenses, look here.

Share your comments!

We're always interested in hearing what you think about constructing sentences in English.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.