Guide to Past Simple and Past Continuous

Past Simple

The Basics - Past Simple

There are two principal past tenses used to make general statements about the past: The past simple and the past continuous. The two tenses are quite different. Use the past simple to talk about an event which happened at some point in time in the past.

  • Tom flew to Chicago last week.
  • Peter visited his friends in Florida two months ago.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the past simple tense for more help.

The Basics - Past Continuous

The past continuous is usually used to refer to events happening at the same time that something important happened in the past.

  • They were doing their homework when she arrived.
  • Jack was studying while Dave was cooking dinner..

The past continuous is also used to express what was happening at a precise moment in the past.

  • I was attending a lecture at 2.30 yesterday afternoon.
  • Alice was reading a book at six yesterday evening.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the past continuous tense for more help.

Past Simple Structure

Positive

Subject + Verb + ed OR Irregular Past Form + Objects

I, You, He, She, We, They --> played golf yesterday afternoon.
I, You, He, She, We, They -=> went lunch at noon.

Negative

Subject + did not (didn't) + Verb + Objects

I, You, He, She, We, They --> didn't go on vacation last summer.

Subject + did not (doesn't) + Verb + Objects

Questions

(Why, What, etc.) + did + Subject + Verb + Objects?

Did --> I, you, we, they --> attend the meeting last week?

Past Continuous Structure

Positive

Subject + conjugate the helping verb "be" + verb + -ing.

I was, You were, He was, She was, We were, You were, They were --> watching TV when I arrived.

Negative

Subject + conjugate the helping verb "be" + not + verb + -ing.

I wasn't, You weren't, He wasn't, She wasn't, We weren't, You weren't, They weren't --> working when he came into the room.

Questions

Question word + conjugate the helping verb 'be' + subject + verb + -ing

What --> were you, they --> doing at seven o'clock?
What --> was I, he, she --> doing at seven o'clock?

More Guides for Past Simple

These guides were prepared especially for beginners and include dialogues and a short quiz.

Teach a Lesson about the Past Simple and Past Continuous

Here are lessons on the site which focus on the past simple or past continuous and their use with other tenses.

Then - Now - integration lesson for upper-level students
Time Expressions - past simple and present perfect compared and contrasted.
Integrating Past Continuous - integrating past continuous into writing
Guilty! - communication lesson using a variety of past tenses

Activities with the Past Simple and Past Continuous

Some activities that will help you practice: