Past Continuous | When and While

Past Continuous | When and While

Normally there are three different situations when we use past continuous. Those three situations are things that happened in the past. Let’s see the situations.

Past Continuous to Describe an Action at Certain Time in the Past

Past Continuous is used to say the action is still going on at certain time in the past. Let’s see the following example:

  • At 10 o’clock last night I was still playing badminton.
  • They were dancing all night long.
  • It was raining at 9 o’clock last night.
  • Last Sunday at this time I was swimming in the river.
  • Last year at this time I was studying English.

Past Continuous to Describe an Action in the middle of Another Action in the Past

Past Continuous is frequently used together with Past Simple to say something happened in the middle of something else. Let’s see the following examples:

  • Christian burnt his hand when he was cooking dinner.
  • It was raining when she left.
  • I was sleeping when somebody knocked at the door.
  • When they were having dinner, their son came.
  • My sister came back when we were watching tv last night.

Past Continuous to Describe Two Actions in Progress Simultaneously in the Past

Past continuous is used to express two actions that happened together in the past. Let’s see the following examples:

  • While I was studying in my room, my neighbors were singing loudly.
  • My father father was sweeping the floor when my mother and I were cooking.
  • My sister was mending her clothes while I was doing my homework.
  • What were you doing when I was taking a shower?
  • I wasn’t doing anything while my brother was writing an application letter.

Verbs not Used in Past Continuous

Some verbs are not normally used in Past Continuous. Let’s see the following table.

believe
belong
forget
hate
have
hear
know
like
love
mean
need
prefer
realize
remember
see
seem
suppose
think
understand
want

 

When and While

According to Oxford English Dictionary, as conjunctions when and while have similar or the same meaning. When means “at or during the time that”.  Also, while  means “during the time that; at the same time as”. The difference of those two conjunctions when we use it in past continuous is:

when is followed by either past continuous (progressive/long actions) or past simple (short actions);

while is followed only by past continuous (progressive/long actions).

See the following examples:

I was having breakfast when she came. (when is followed by past simple/short action)

She came when I was having breakfast. (when is followed by past continuous/progressive/long action)

While I was having breakfast, she came. (while is followed by past continuous/progressive/long action)

She came while I was having breakfast. (while is followed by past continuous/progressive/long action)

We cannot say:

While she came, I was having breakfast. (wrong)

I was having breakfast while she came. (wrong)

Past Continuous Exercises

Exercise I

Complete the sentences with correct tenses: past simple or past continuous.

  1. I (come) late school yesterday.
  2. At this time last Sunday I (have) lunch out.
  3. What time you (arrive)?
  4. At eight thirty last night, I (watch) a football match.
  5. We (go) to a party last night.
  6. What you (do) at 9 o’clock last Sunday morning?
  7. She (receive) a mysterious letter three days ago.
  8. Last week at this time, we (play) golf.
  9. This morning I (be) sick.
  10. Yesterday at this time, what your mother (do)?

Exercise II

Complete the sentences with when or while.

  1. …..the governor was giving a speech, the plane crashed just outside the building.
  2. ….. we arrived, everyone was waiting for us.
  3. Jack left …… all his friend was having fun last night.
  4. What were you doing …. she came home?
  5. The teacher was invigilating the students …… they were doing the test.
  6. …. my mother was reading a story, my little brother fell asleep.
  7. I was dancing with my high school mate …. my wife suddenly turned up.
  8. All people in our village were staying home …… the police was patrolling around.
  9. …. it was snowing in Stockholm, the sun was shining in Sydney.
  10. …. the boy left her alone, what happened to his girlfriend?

Exercise III

In this exercise we are going to practice changing the verb into the Past Continuous or Past Simple form. Let’s see the examples first!

  • When Kim (arrive), we (have) dinner.  When Kim arrived, we were having dinner.
  • While my father (work), he (hurt) his back. While my father was working, he hurt his back.

1. What …your wife (do) at this time yesterday?
2. I (see) Sue at the party. She (wear) a black gown.
3. When I (read) a book, she (come).
4. What …you (do) when I (call) you?
5. John (fall) off the ladder while he (paint) the door.
6. My wife (wait) for me when I (arrive).
7. When I (have) a shower, the phone (ring)
8. It (begin) to rain when I (walk) home.
9. Grace (see) the accident when she (wait) for the bus.
10.Anthony (have) breakfast when she (come).

Exercise IV

Answer the following questions. Ask and answer with your partner if possible.

  1. Describe what you and other family members were doing at 9 o’clock last night.
  2. Describe your last vacation. Tell us what you and other people were doing there.


Answers

Exercise I

  1. I came late school yesterday.
  2. At this time last Sunday I was having lunch out.
  3. What time you did you arrive?
  4. At eight thirty last night, I was watching a football match.
  5. We went to the party last night.
  6. What were you doing at 9 o’clock last Sunday morning?
  7. She received a mysterious letter three days ago.
  8. Last week at this time, we were playing golf.
  9. This morning I was sick.
  10. Yesterday at this time, what was your mother doing?

Exercise II

  1. while/when
  2. when
  3. while/when
  4. when
  5. while/when
  6. while/when
  7. when
  8. while/when
  9. while/when
  10. when

Exercise III

1. What was your wife doing at this time yesterday?
2. I saw Sue at the party. She was wearing a black gown.
3. When I was reading a book, she came.
4. What were you doing when I called you?
5. John fell off the ladder while he was painting the door.
6. My wife was waiting for me when I arrived.
7. When I was having a shower, the phone rang.
8. It began to rain when I was walking home.
9. Grace saw the accident when she was waiting for the bus.
10.Anthony was having breakfast when she came.

Exercise IV

Different answers are possible.

  1. At night o’clock last night, I was still working, writing a new post for my blog. My wife was sleeping while my eldest son was serving his customers who bought some stuff from his store. Meanwhile, my youngest son was still playing games online. I didn’t know what my daughter was doing at that time because she doesn’t live here. She lives in another city.
  2. We went to  a lake on our last vacation. We were swimming on the lake  when suddenly a big fish appeared in front of us. To our surprise, the fish could jump out of the water for about two meters high. However, because we were scared with it, we were running out of the water. But, some other people kept on swimming and were trying to touch the fish. It was scary but surprising.

Download the exercise here.

 

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