Tenses (2): The simple past and past progressive (or continuous)

Revision of present tenses

A. Simple present:

Habitual action, permanent or long-term state 1. I go to work by bus. 2. Japan is in Asia.

B. Present continuous or progressive:

Current, short-term action, changing situation 1. I am working hard on my project (short-term continuous action) 2. The weather is getting warmer (changing)

Past tenses: simple and progressive past

There is a similar situation in the past tense. (There are other past tenses than these too, but we’ll look at them another time.)

A. Simple past:

I, he, she, it went, worked, bought, saw, was you, we, they went, worked, bought, saw, were Used to talk about actions in the past; often used with an expression giving information about when the action took place: 1. Mr. Smith lived in Australia from 1999 to 2003. He went back there to visit friends last year. 2. I watched television until 9 p.m. yesterday evening, then I did my homework, had a bath and went to bed. This is also the past tense most often used in stories and other written accounts: * “The Rabbit … TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, and then hurried on.” (Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”)

B. Past progressive

This is formed in the same way as the present progressive, except that it takes the simple past form of the verb ‘to be’: I, he, she, it was doing you, we, they were doing Used to talk about an action that was happening: * around a certain time in the past * before another action occurred 1. Policeman: What were you doing at 8 p.m. yesterday? Man: I was at home, watching television with my family. 2. I was dreaming I was on holiday when the alarm clock rang and I had to get up for work. 3. What were they saying about me before I arrived? Can be used for ‘setting the scene’ in a story (often in conjunction with an action in the simple past which interrupts the continuous action): The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was walking along the road thinking happily to myself about what I would do that day, when a huge monster suddenly appeared!

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