Past Simple and Past Continuous Tense – English Grammar Lesson

Here’s a quick lesson to understand the difference between Past Simple and Past continuous tenses. Students often get confused and make errors while using these tenses. In this English Grammar lesson with Michelle, Understand the difference and grammar rules on learn how to use these tenses correctly in spoken English.

You will also find a Grammar quiz at the end of this lesson to understand how much have you learned from this English lesson. We hope you clear your confusion with these two tenses and use them correctly without  making some common errors made be many beginners in English.

Complete Lesson Transcript : –

Hi guys, welcome to the lesson, You know what, ‘I was eating biscuit before I started this lesson’ and ‘in the morning I ate breakfast’, what’s the difference between these two sentences, do we have the same tenses? No, these two sentences talk about the past, but one is past continuous and the other is past simple. Don’t get too confused, just stay with me in this lesson to solve the puzzle of “past continuous” and “past simple”. So guys here we have with us certain sentences that will help you understand how to talk about past tense using these tenses. So let’s look at the first sentence, “yesterday Carin and Jim played tennis”, do you think it’s past continuous or past simple? Well, because the main verb in the sentence has an “ed”, that’s why this is past simple. But what if this verb had “ing”, then it would be past continuous. But in this case it is past simple. Right, so if I ask you what time were they playing tennis? Let’s say, they were playing tennis from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., so we’d say they played tennis yesterday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. But if I ask you what were they doing at 10:30? Here, what were they doing at 10:30 a.m.? You’d say they were playing tennis at 10:30 a.m. But why would we say, ‘they were playing’ instead of saying, ‘they play tennis’ at 10:30 a.m. That’s because we are talking about an action that was going on in the past. We are talking about, we’re in the middle of an action that was going on in the past. So this is in middle of an action. Middle of an action in the past. So this is where the action started and this is where the action finished. Let’s try to draw a timeline for this, alright, so this is now, this is future and here we have the past. This is one moment in the past and this is another moment in the past. But when something happens in the middle of an action, before it started and until it finished, that is where we use the “past continuous tense”. So Jim and Carin were playing tennis at 10:30, as you can see here, this is past continuous tense because we have the “ing”. Now let’s look at the next sentence that we have, “I waved to Helen”, okay, so ‘waved’ is past simple because we have the “ed” form of the verb, okay we are talking about one action in the past, “I waved to Helen, but she wasn’t looking”, so this means that we are talking about something that is happening, she wasn’t looking all this while, we are talking about the middle of that action. So this is past continuous. Did you notice something peculiar? The difference between this sentence and this sentence, here we say, “they were playing tennis”, but here we say, “she wasn’t looking” why do we use this ‘was’ and ‘were’? What’s the whole confusion about? Nothing difficult. So we used ‘were’ with, oh, sorry. ‘he/she/it’ – ‘was’, okay? Third-person singular. ‘I/we/you and they’ – ‘were’, right? That’s the reason we use, ‘wasn’t looking’, that’s why we used ‘was’ here and ‘were’ with they, okay? Now let’s look at the next sentence that we have, “Matt phoned while we were having dinner”. So there is an action that is going on, which one is that? ‘Having dinner’, okay? So they were eating dinner and the action was going on, but something happened in the middle of that action and what happened? ‘Matt phoned’, that means ‘Matt called’… So whenever an action happens, in the middle of something else that’s when we use, past simple and also past continuous together. So if you’re studying and one of your friends calls to you, you could say, “Rachel called while I was studying”, but be careful, we will say, “I was” and not “I were”, okay? Great. “I was walking along the road when I saw Dave. So I stopped, we had a chat.” Okay, this is interesting, we have so many actions here, “I was walking”, okay? – action one and this is past continuous “along the road when I saw David” – second action, but this is past simple. “So I stopped and we had a chat” we have two more actions in this. So whenever some actions, follow the other actions in the past we use, past simple to talk about them. So ‘I was walking along the road when I saw David’, – one action, ‘then I stopped’ – another action and then “we had a chat” this is another action and that’s why we are using the past simple and not the past continuous. Now we have the last sentence with us, “I was enjoying the party, but Chris wanted to go home.” Should we say, ‘he wanted to go home’ or ‘wanting to go home’? What if we say, but ‘Chris was wanting to go home’, will that be correct? “I was enjoying the party, but Chris was wanting to go home.” No, that’s incorrect. We’d rather say, ‘Chris wanted to go home’ and this is because, we use the simple past about an action in the past. It’s a single action that happened in the past, not something that was going on and the word ‘want’, is usually used in the past simple, it’s never used in the past continuous and the same applies for the word, ‘know’, you could say that, “we were good friends, and I knew her for five years”. You wouldn’t say, ‘I was knowing her for five years’, which will be incorrect. So, ‘know’ and ‘want’ are always used in the simple past, like this.

Okay, I hope you learned enough about the simple past and the past continuous and now the puzzle is solved for you. Please come back for more grammar lessons, this is Michelle signing off, bye-bye.

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