Let’s Learn Past Simple & Past Continuous

Let’s Learn Past Simple & Past Continuous

Do you know how to use the past continuous and past simple?

Look at these examples to see how the past continuous and past simple are used.

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing.
I was sleeping when you called me.

The past continuous and the past simple help us to show how two past actions or situations are connected.

Past simple

The past simple shows us that an action was in the past, not in the present. Regular past simple verbs have –ed at the end (e.g. calledplayedarrived). Irregular verbs have a different form, usually with a different vowel sound (e.g. wake → wokebreak → brokefeel → felt).

My parents called me yesterday.
I woke up early this morning.
Sam played basketball when he was at university.

We make the negative with didn’t and the infinitive verb.

My parents didn’t call me yesterday.
I didn’t wake up early this morning.

We make the question form with did and then the subject and infinitive verb.

Did you wake up early this morning?
Did Sam play basketball when he was at university?

Past continuous

The past continuous shows us that the action was already in progress at a certain time in the past.

What were you doing at 8 p.m. last night? I was studying.

This means that I started studying before 8 p.m. and I continued after 8 p.m.

The past continuous can also show that an activity was in progress for some time, not just for a moment.

We were cleaning the house all morning.

We make the past continuous with was or were and the –ing form of the verb.

She couldn’t come to the party. She was working.
Three years ago, we were living in my home town.
I tried to give him some advice, but he wasn’t listening.
What were you doing this time last year?

Past continuous and past simple

When we use these two tenses together, it shows us that the past simple action happened in the middle of the past continuous action, while it was in progress.

While I was studying, I suddenly felt sleepy.

We often use these tenses to show an action interrupting another action.

I broke my leg when I was skiing.
As I was going to work, I saw an old friend.
We were watching television when the power went off.

Can you see a difference in the meaning of these two sentences?

When the guests arrived, Jane was cooking dinner.
When the guests arrived, Jane cooked dinner.

In the first one, Jane started cooking dinner before the guests arrived. We know that because it uses the past continuous. In the second sentence, the guests arrived first and then Jane started cooking.

List of Daily Routines in the Past Simple Tense in English

(You can hear the pronunciation of each daily routine in the video)

  • I woke up
  • I turned off my alarm
  • I got up
  • I took a shower / I had a shower
  • I got dressed
  • I combed my hair
  • I made breakfast
  • I ate breakfast / I had breakfast
  • I brushed my teeth
  • I went to work
  • I started work at 9
  • I answered emails
  • I ate lunch / I had lunch
  • I worked on my computer
  • I finished work at 5
  • I went home
  • I arrived home
  • I fed the dog
  • I cooked dinner
  • I ate dinner / I had dinner
  • I watched TV
  • I read a book
  • I went to bed
  • I fell asleep

Daily routines for School

  • I went to school
  • I had classes
  • I ate lunch / I had lunch
  • I finished school at 3
  • I went home
  • I did my homework

Notice how in this lesson all of these phrases are in the past simple tense and have I (first person singular) as the subject.

Practice Exercises

Video practice: At the end of the video there is a practice exercise where a cartoon of a daily routine appears on the screen. There are also three phrases in the past tense next to the cartoon and you must choose which phrase best describes that activity. The answer will appear after 5 seconds (approximately).

Summary Chart

Daily Routines - Past tense in English

Learning English British Council
Woodward English

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