Grammar. 27.05.2010
Grammar Teacher

The Past Continuous Tense. The Meanings and uses.

Автор: Grammar Teacher
"There is a way to look at the past. Don't hide from it. It will not catch you if you don't repeat it."
 Pearl Bailey
З точки зору класичної фізики, минуле — просто половина часової осі. Події, які лежать за конусом минулого, не можуть вплинути на сучасне і тому минулим не вважаються.
Найважливішими властивостями минулого, які є чинними у фізиці та філософії є такі:

• Незмінність  - те, що є минулим сьогодні, у майбутньому теж буде належати минулому.
• Єдність -  в одній точці простору-часу, яка належить минулому, не могли мати місце "взаємовиключні" події.

Як відповідь,в одинадцятій книзі «Сповіді» Блаженного Августина читаємо: «Ані майбутнього, ані минулого немає. І неправильно казати про існування трьох часів: минулого, теперішнього і майбутнього. Точніше було б казати — є три часи: теперішній минулого, теперішній теперішнього і теперішній майбутнього. Всі ці часи присутні в нашій душі: теперішній минулого — як пам’ять, теперішній теперішнього — як безпосереднє споглядання, теперішній майбутнього — як безпосереднє очікування». Тобто минуле приходить до нас на хвилях пам’яті, і ми сприймаємо наше сьогодення як її органічне продовження в нескінченому плині часу, який ми, свідомо чи несвідомо, творимо. Але скільки б не існувало теорій, зупинити плинність часу ще не спромігся жоден…
Адже час - вправний вершник. Те, що колись було мріями, надіями, сподіваннями, тепер - лише спогади. Прудконогий кінь часу безжально стоптав, перемолов їх під своїми підковами і помчав далі, наздоганяти нові жертви. Meanwhile memory teaches, justifies, destroys…Nostalgia takes us over and on long rainy evenings we sink into a habitual arm-chair to tell a story just like this:
That was a deep cold night. Its blackness swallowed up all around. The stars were shining like thousands of lights, but that light meant nothing to him. The wind was telling its dreadful story, but he was too anxious to fear anything. He was missing, he was deadly missing HER. What could break that unbearable silence? A human cry or a sudden thunder? Oh, no, they were dumb compared to HER gentle voice, HER shrill exciting laughter. Everything was dumb in that field of paper flowers. He was standing and watching as they were dancing slowly their sacral dance in honour of darkness…
Suddenly he heard a whisper. He couldn’t understand who it belonged to, but it was continually calling HER name.  Quietly, but clearly and so softly that he didn’t hesitate any longer. Although he was still standing on the same spot that an hour before, his thoughts were running away, moving forward to the goddess of imaginary light. And so did he. Desperate and immensely faithful, he jumped up and broke into a run! He understood friendship in his own way and did as told him his dog’s heart. Yes, he was a DOG that was pursuing his owner without a hope to ever regain HER… But! the brave are always happy!

When telling a story, or talking about situations and activities which happened at a defined past time, we usually use The Simple Past Tense and The Past Continuous Tense.
NOTE! When narrating past events, DO NOT mix past and present tenses (avoid using the present perfect and present simple), as these will confuse the reader/listener about when things really happened.

This time we will take a close look at the meaning and uses of The Past Continuous Tense and how it differs from The Simple Past Tense.
First of all, remember that The Past Continuous Tense is used to describe actions in the past that continued for some time and did not have a stated or know beginning or end. The Past Continuous doesn’t tell us whether an action was finished or not. Perhaps it was finished, perhaps not. When The Simple Past Tense means that an action was completed.
The dog was running through the field. (past continuous.) = He was in the middle of running through the field and we do not know whether he ran to its end.
The dog ran through the forest. (simpl e past.) = He began and finished it. He ran from one edge of the field to the other.

We often use phrases like all morning/evening/day/night to emphasize the duration of the process. E.g. It was raining heavily all night yesterday. 

The past Continuous is formed with the past tense of be and the -ing form of the verb.

Positive statements Negative statements Wh-questions
was looking
were looking
I/she/he/it was not
(wasn't) looking

We/you/they were not
weren't looking
Where was he looking?

Why were they looking?
Yes/No questions Positive short answers Negative short answers
Was she looking?
Were they looking?
Yes, she was.

Yes, they were.
No,she wasn't.

No, they weren't.



And now about the uses of The Past Continuous Tense:USE 1. Background situation



We use The Past Continuous to ‘set the scene’ (give an idea of the background situation) for a story. In this way we describe the atmosphere at a particular time in the past. The events of the story are described using the past simple.
 When I walked into the office, several people were busily typing, some were talking on the phones, the boss was yelling directions, and customers were waiting to be helped. One customer was yelling at a secretary and waving his hands. Others were complaining to each other about the bad service.

In the story above you can find other examples for this use:
The stars were shining like thousands of lights….
The wind was telling its dreadful story…

USE 2. Specific Time in the past
We use The Past Continuous when we are interested in an action in progress around a particular time in the past. It doesn’t matter whether we finished an action or not, the main thing is that it was taking place.
• Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
• At midnight, we were still driving through the desert.
• Yesterday at this time, I was sitting at my desk at work. 


USE 3. Interrupted Action in the Past
Use the Past Continuous to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted. The interruption is usually a shorter action in the Simple Past.
The man was enjoying surfing in the sea when suddenly a shark attacked him.
So the man’s surfing was a long action which was interrupted by a longer one – the shark’s attack.

In the text above we have another example:
He was standing and watching ….Suddenly he heard a whisper.

Compare The Past Continuous with the Past Simple here:
She was reading a book when he rushed in.He rushed in in the middle of her reading and interrupted it.

She read a book and he rushed in.
  – She read the book before he rushed in. So one event happened right after another one.

USE 4. Parallel Actions

When you use the Past Continuous with two actions in the same sentence, it expresses the idea that both actions were happening at the same time. The actions are parallel. 

I was sleeping when my mum was making a meal.

In our story about the dog we have a similar example:
He was standing and watching as they were dancing slowly their sacral dance in honour of darkness… - So both actions were taking place at the same time, parallelly.

To express the idea that both actions were happening at the same time we use such words:

E.g. Were you listening while/when/as he was talking?

It is important to remember that Non-Continuous (State) verbs cannot be used in any continuous tenses. Instead of using Past Continuous with these verbs, you must use Simple Past.
Examples: Jane was being at my house when you arrived. Not Correct
Jane was at my house when you arrived.  Correct.

А зараз, любі мої, перед вами стоїть 2 завдання :

Task 1.
Look at the picture and write as many sentences answering the question “What were these people doing yesterday at midday?” as you can.

Task 2.
Listen to this piece of music and write either the continuation to my story about the dog or your own story ( using the past continuous, of course). GOOD LUCK and Happy English!

Your Grammar Teacher


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