Past Progressive

Report past temporary, repeated, or background activity

standing
 

 

Temporary vs. Permanent

TEMPORARY – PAST PROGRESSIVE

We use the past progressive to talk about more temporary activities.

SUBJ PREDICATE COMP / ADJUNCT
NP PAST PROG. V NP / PP

Alison

was living

in San Mateo while attending Stanford.

Alison

was commuting

to Palo Alto for four years.

Alison

was standing

on the train platform.  

Alison

*was loving
 

her  job in marketing. 

MORE PERMANENT – PAST

We use the past tense to talk about more permanent situations.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMP / ADJUNCT
NP PAST V NP / PP

Alison

lived

in San Francisco after finishing college.

Alison

commuted

to work every day.

Her office building

stood

on the corner on and Market Street.

Alison

loved

her job in marketing.

 

*Commonly used but Informal tense usage with a stative verb.
complement – a word, phrase, or clause that is required in a sentence to complete its meaning.
commute – to regularly travel a long distance to get to work

 

Grammatical Functions: Subject – (Subj) the agent of the action; Predicate/Predicator – (Pred) the action or change in state; Complement – Comp  –  an element required to complete the subject and predicate; Adjunct – an element not required by the verb, a modifying word, phrase, clause; Supplement – a comment in the form of a word, phrase or clause that is loosely related to the central idea of the sentence.

Lexical Categories "Parts of Speech": N – noun / pronoun; NP – noun phrase; V – verb; VP – verb phrase; Adj – adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; Adv – adverb; AdvP – adverb phrase; P – preposition; PP – prepositional phrase; Det – determiners –  noun markers (e.g., articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives); Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator; Interj – interjection; INF – infiniitve: GER – gerund; Nonfinite: an infinitive or gerund clause

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Progressive

Repeated Activity

 

 

Repeated Event vs Single Event

REPEATED ACTIVITY

We use the past progressive to place emphasis on the repeated nature (repetition) of an activity.  We use would or used to for habits.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
NP V / VP NP / PP

Alison 

attended 

was attending

used to attend

lectures on art history.

Alison

commuted

was commuting

used to commute

to Palo Alto for four years.

She

waited  

was waiting

used to wait

for the train everyday..  

She 

ran  

was running

used to run

to catch her bus everyday.  

SINGLE EVENT

We use the past tense to talk about a single event.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
NP PAST VERB NP / PP

Alison

attended

a lecture on Byzantine Art.

Alison

traveled

 

to conference in New York

Alison

waited

 

one hour for the train today.

Alison

waited

one hour for the train today.

 

would / used to –  Would / Used to

 

 

 

 

 

Past Progressive

Background Activity

 

 

 

A focus activity with "backgrounding"

MAIN FOCUS

We use the past tense to tell about an activity, the main focus (point) of what we are saying.

We saw two cars crash.

He said that he would like to run for office again.

Something on her plate started to move.

A handsome young guy walked by our table and her eyes lit up.

 

BACKGROUND ACTIVITY

We use the past progressive to tell what is going on in the background. The sentence in the past progressive sets the scene for the main action in the past nonprogressive.

As we were walking along the sidewalk, we saw two cars crash.
 

I was having a beer with the President yesterday, and he said that we would like to run for office again.
 

Jessica was eating dinner with Justin Timberlake at a chic, new restaurant in Beverly Hills, when something on her plate started to move.

Madonna was saying that she still couldn't find a good man, then a handsome young man walked by our table and her eyes lit up.  

 

backgrounding – this pairing of tenses is also used for "name dropping" (mentioning the name of a famous person to impress others.)

Also see After/ Before/ When – time-relative activities

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Progressive

Adverbs and Time Expressions

 

 

Adverbs for Both Past & Past Progressive Tenses

PAST & PAST PROGRESSIVE ADVERBS

Past tense verbs are used with adverbs specifying a past time or frequency of occurence. The emphasis is on action.

AT, IN, ON AGO, LAST THIS, THAT

A specific time in the past (clendar or clock times)

A past time based on quantity or calendar units

A past time before the current time  (near, far)

at 6:00 AM(at noon, at midnight)

a day ago (second, minute, hour, , week, month, year)  

this monday (week, month, year)  "the near, recent one"

on January 10 (Thursday)

last night (week, month, winter, year) 

that monday (week, month, year)  

in January (month)  / in 2006  (year) /

yesterday

 

these/ those weeks (days, months, years) 

in the 1960s  (the 1800s, the early times)

   
 

 


 

 
PAST & PAST PROGRESSIVE ADVERBS

Past progressive verbs are used with adverbs specifying a past time, or expressing duration. The emphasis is on time.

RELATIVE TIME  FREQUENCY DURATION

A time relative to another past activity

A time that reoccurred in the past   

A time with duration in the past   

when he saw it¹

always (routinely, customarily, as a rule)

for three weeks (days, months, years) "a quantity of time"

while he was looking at it¹

usually (in general, normally)

from Monday to Friday  (a span of time)

whenever he looked at it²

often (frequently, half of the time) /

during the 1960s  (a period of time)

anytime he looked at it²

sometimes (occasionally, on occasion)

over the past few years (days, months)

if he looked at it

rarely (seldom, hardly ever, not ever, never)
 

continuously (continually)

 

several times (nonprogressive only)
*Using that / those distances the speaker from the time mentioned.
Related page: Adverbs of Time ;  also see Past Adverbs, Short / Long Duration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Progressive

Word Order

 

 

 

AUXILIARY VERB SUBJECT AUXILIARY VERB MAIN VERB ADVERBIAL PHRASE CLAUSE
STATEMENT           
 

Alison

was

living

in San Francisco.

 

 

Alison and her friend 

were

living

in San Francisco.

 

QUESTION          

Was 

Alison

 

living   

in San Francisco?

 

Were  

Alison and her friend

 

living   

in San Francisco?

 

*TAG QUESTION          
 

Alison

was

living

in San Francisco,

wasn't she? 

 

Alison and her friend 

were

living

in San Francisco,

weren't they?

NEGATIVE          

 

Alison

wasn't  (not) 

living

in San Francisco.

 

 

Alison and her friend 

were n' t  (not) 

not living

in San Francisco.

 

†EMPHASIS          

 

Alison

was

living

in San Francisco.

 

 

Alison and her friend

were   

living

in San Francisco. 

 

*A tag question can also occur with a negative main sentence and a positive final question: Alison wasn't living in San Francisco, was she?   Related page: And so / too   

†Use emphasis word order when contradicting or stating that the opposite is true: "I think that Alison wasn't living in San Francisco."   "No, she was living there." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

ERRORS

I took the train when I was living in San Francisco.

I was was getting lost several times.  

I was living there since June 2010.

SOLUTION 

I took the train when I lived in San Francisco.
I took the train while I was living in San Francisco.

I got lost several times.   (Use nonprogressive with "several times".)
I kept getting / was getting lost all the time.

I was living there in June 2010.  (I lived there temporarily during that period.)
I have lived (t)here since June 2010. (I still live here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice

The San Francisco Street Scene

Union Square in San Francisco
Union Square in San Francisco, California
 

 

Read the Paragraph

As I (walk) in downtown San Francisco, I saw so many things that were  so San Francisco. Union Square, in the center of the city, was filled with people who (go) here and there. People (look) at paintings, jewelry and photographs along the sidewalks as they were walking. A huge balloon (float) above the people as they walked across the square. Buses, cars, and taxis (rush) around the square, but inside the square it was peaceful and calm.  On one side of the square, a man (sing) opera while his partner did a series of magic tricks.

On the other side of the square, a man and woman painted silver (stand) like statues. A homeless man (sit) on a curb talking to his dog, and the dog (bark) back at him. Two men, who (wear) brightly-colored costumes with orange feathers and who (talk) a mile a minute, nearly ran into me.  The sound of a fire engine (approach) as I descended into the BART (subway) station and left the noisy city above.

 

a mile a minute (expression) – very fast, rapidly

approach (v.) – come closer, nearer

bark (v.) – the sound a dog makes

costume (n.) – a set of clothes worn by an actor or performer

curb (n.) – edge of the sidewalk next to the street

descended (v.) – went down (stairs)

float (v.) – move slowly, stay up in the air

here and there – in every direction

hurriedly (adv.) – moving in a fast manner; at a quick pace

nearly ran into (v.) – almost crashed into or knocked over

scene (adj.) – the sights, sounds, and activity of a place

so + noun (expression) – typical of a place or person, That's so you, or That's so Parisian.

statue (n.) – a figure, often of a famous person, made of stone or bronze

square (n.) – a place that is the central plaza, an open city space for walking and enjoying

 

 

 

 

Select the verb forms for past or past progressive.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
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