Past Simple and Past Continuous Contrasted

Differences and similarities in the Past Simple and the Past Continuous

1. Use

Past SimplePast Continuous
  • action finished in the past (single or repeated)
  • series of completed actions in the past
  • action was in progress at a certain time in the past
  • two actions were happening at the same time (the actions do not influence each other)

2. Form

Past SimplePast Continuous
  • regular verbs: infinitive + –ed
  •  irregular verbs: 2nd column of the table of the irregular verbs
(was or were) + infinitive ing

3. Examples

3.1. Affirmative sentences

Past SimplePast Continuous
played tennis.He was playing tennis.
You played tennis.You were playing tennis.
He played tennis.He was playing tennis.

3.2. Negative sentences

Past SimplePast Continuous
did not played tennis.He was not playing tennis.
You did not played tennis.You were not playing tennis.
He did not played tennis.He was not playing tennis.

3.3. Questions

Past SimplePast Continuous
Did I play tennis?Was I playing tennis?
Did you play tennis?Were you playing tennis?
Did he play tennis?Was he playing tennis?

4. Spelling

Past SimplePast Continuous
  • stopped (Double the consonant after a short vowel.)
  • lived (one -e at the end of the word → Add only -d.)
  • hurried (consonant before -y → Change to -i.)
  • hitting (Double the consonant after a short vowel.)
  • making (Drop the -e.)
  • dying (Change -ie to -y.)

5. Use

Both tenses are often used together in one sentence:

While I was having a bath, the telephone rang.

I was having a bath when the telephone rang.

  • Past Continuous → I was having a bath
  • Past Simple → the telephone rang.

The action in the Past Simple (2) interrupts the action in the Past Continuous (1).

diagram past continuous and past simple