Grammar-QuizzesVerb PhrasesVerbsPast › Past vs. Past Progressive

Past vs. Past Progressive

Refer to earlier occurrences

Receving a traffic ticket
 

In Context—Past vs. Past Progressive

Jack received a speeding ticket on June 16th. It was upsetting, but he knew that he was irresponsible. He either had to pay a fine or attend traffic school. Jack attended traffic school online. He completed the course and learned about safe driving. Jack drove more carefully after that experience.

Jack was receiving a speeding ticket when a friend drove by. He felt so embarrassed. He was behaving irresponsibly. As a result, he either had to pay a fine or attend traffic school. Some friends invited him out last weekend, but he couldn't go because he was attending traffic school online. After that experience, he was driving more carefully.

 

Past vs. Past Progressive

PAST

A verb in the past tense indicates the action or state took place at an earlier time. Whether or not the action had duration or was repetitive is not important; it happened and ended. The action may be pinned to a time in the past (definite) or it may be timeless (indefinite).

ACTION WITH DEFINITE TIMING

Jack received  a speeding ticket on June 16th.

Past indefinite time

STATE OF MIND —TIMELESS

Jack was irresponsible.

Past state timing

ACTION(S) WITH INDEFINITE TIMING

Jack attended traffic school online. ("sometime in the past")

past indefinite timing

SEQUENCE OF ACTIONS; ORDERED BUT INDEFINITE TIMING

Jack was irresponsible, received a ticket, and attended traffic school.

Past sequence of actions

Jack drove more carefully after that.

PAST PROGRESSIVE

A verb in the past progressive indicates (1) the duration or repetition of a past activity or event; and/or (2) relative timing of one activity to another, for example, as background activity interrupted by another activity that is the main focus.

AN ONGOING ACTIVITY INTERRUPTED BY AN ACTION

Jack was receiving a speeding ticket when a friend drove by.

Past progressive--relative timing

STATE OF MIND [TEMPORARY]

Jack was behaving irresponsibly. (at the moment while speeding)

Past progressive--temporary state of mind

ACTION WITH DURATION, DEFINITE TIMING

Jack was attending traffic school last weekend.

Past progressive-duration

ACTION WITH REPETITION, DEFINITE TIMING

Jack was attending traffic school last Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Past progressive-repeated

Jack was driving more carefully after that. (at least for a while, temporarily)

 

 

The past verb form is usually marked with -ed, -d, or -t (walked, loved, slept).  See for irregular forms below.

The past progressive is formed with a verb group: auxiliary be and the participle verb form -ing.

traffic school – a course that one has to take to reduce a traffic fine (penalty)

He knew that he was irresponsible. (general truth)  He knew that he had been irresponsible. (singular situation)

 

 

 

 

Situations — Verbs in Context

Choose compatible adverbs for particular situations

 

 

Situation Expressed by Past vs. Progressive Verb

PAST

The use of an adverb in a past tense clause depends on the situation expressed by the verb and the rest of the clause.  Compare these situations: a state (exists), achievement (occurs quickly), accomplishment (an action toward an end/goal), activity (action, has duration, is timeless).

STATE—EXISTENCE, NO ACTION, NO TIMING

Jack knew everyone in town.  (no adverb)

Jack was always an only-child.   (frequency timing)

Jack was active when he was young.  (relative time)

ACHIEVEMENT—MOMENTARY ACTION, ONE POINT IN TIME

Jack crashed his new car. (no adverb)

Jack recognized his stolen car on eBay. 

Jack crashed his new car yesterday.   (specific time)

Jack crashed his new car when he sneezed. (quick relative time)

ACCOMPLISHMENT—SEMI-ENDURING ACTION DIRECTED TOWARD AN END

Jack drove his car to the mechanic yesterday.  (specific time)

Jack drove his car to the mechanic when it broke down. (relative time)

Jack drove his car to the mechanic to fix the brakes. (goal)

ACTIVITY—ENDURING OR REPEITITVE ACTION, NO END TIME

Jack drove his car for years.    (duration-quantity)

Jack drove a taxi during the 1990s. (duration-period)

Jack drove his car to work repeatedly. (repetition)

Jack always drove cars.  (frequency, interval)

PAST PROGRESSIVE

A verb expressing a meaning of activity—short, long, or repetitive—goes well with the progressive tense.  Adverbs for specific times modify short or long activities. Adverbs for frequency, duration and repetition modify activities that are "timeless" without end times.

STATE—EXISTENCE, NO ACTION, NO TIMING

(States cannot be progressive. They have no action. No adverb.)

See Static Verbs.

 

ACHIEVEMENT—MOMENTARY ACTION, ONE POINT IN TIME

(Achievements cannot be progressive. They occur instantaneously and

at a single point in time. No Adverb.)

*Jack was crashing his new car. 

*Jack was recognizing his stolen car on eBay.

ACCOMPLISHMENT—SEMI-ENDURING ACTION DIRECTED TOWARD AN END

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic yesterday.  (specific time)

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic when it broke down. (relative)

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic to fix the brakes. (goal)

ENDURING OR REPEITITVE ACTION, NO END TIME

Jack was driving his car for years.    (duration-quantity)

Jack was driving a taxi during the 1990s. (duration-period)

Jack was driving his car to work repeatedly. (repetition)

Jack was always driving cars.  (frequency, interval)

 

*incorrect / ~awkward or borderline usage

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language classifies verbs into four kinds of situations.  These situations help us understand why and when we use nonprogressive or progressive (aspect), and which adverbs go well with a particular type of situation. [I will try to summarize; however, please see the book for a more accurate description.]

a state — is a static verb (stative), no action, cannot be progressive, timeless.    See Static Verbs.

an achievement — is a single momentary action (quick, punctual), almost instantaneous. (An "achievement" sounds like something worth celebrating; however, the meaning here is that the action reaches an end quickly, for example:  He dropped the glass. He fell down. He recognized me. He turned on the light.)

an activity — occurs, has duration, may have repetition, has no terminal point, is "timeless", without direction to an end (atelic).  He reads to his son. He plays basketball. He commutes to work.

an accomplishment — occurs, endures, and moves toward an endpoint (telic). It often includes a distance, destination, an end point for the activity (telic).  He read three stories to his son. He made it to work on time. He walked a mile to a gas station.  Some verbs include an end point. The ice cream melted.

(Huddleston 3 §3.2 "Kinds of Situations and Aspectuality)

 

 

 

 

Past Adverbs (time expressions)

Specify the timing of an action or activity

walking
 

 

Past Time Expressions — definite vs. indefinite timing

DEFINITE TIMING

Adverbial expressions with definite timing are used when actions can be marked on a timeline (clock/calendar); they have endpoints/goals. Compare: She was driving to work yesterday. (definite timing, it ended when she arrived at work) to She drove to work. (indefinite timing, "timeless", no endpoint, a routine).

BOTH PROG. & NONPROGRESSIVE BOTH PROG. & NONPROGRESSIVE

She was driving to work at noon

She drove to work at noon

She was driving to work yesterday

She drove to work yesterday

AT, IN, ON THAT / LAST…

at 6:00 AM(an earlier time—at noon yesterday, at midnight last week)

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

on January 10 (an earlier date—last Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, January 31, May 1, 2020)

last night (week, month, winter, year) 

yesterday

in January (an earlier month, year, century— the 1990s, the 19th century)

that¹ Monday (week, month, year)  

those weeks (days, months, years)

as we spoke (a relative point in time: when they arrived, as soon as she knew)

then

still (with a negative verb: no longer)

⇒ Used with progressive.

 

INDEFINITE TIMING

Adverbial expressions with indefinite timing are used when activities or states happen "sometime", not related to a timeline. The precise time is not important. The focus is on the activity or state. These adverbs express duration (a period of time) or repetition (the interval of occurrence).                                                

BOTH PROG. & NONPROGRESSIVE BOTH PROG. & NONPROGRESSIVE

She was driving to work constantly.

She drove to work during the week.

She was driving to work often.

She drove to work often.

DURATION REPETITION

temporarily(continuously, briefly, momentarily) [imperfective, ongoing] ⇒ Mostly progressive.

repeatedly(constantly, continuously, again and again, perpetually, eternally)⇒ Switch to "keep" with progressive.³

for a moment (ten minutes, a week, a month, for a while², a little while, a day,  forever)  ⇒ Often present perfect.

always (routinely, customarily, usually, in general, normally, often, sometimes, hardly ever, never)

during the week (month, year, etc.) ⇒ Mostly nonprogressive.

at night (noon, midnight, sunset)

in spring (winter, summer, June, July)

from Monday to Tuesday(1 PM to 2 PM, morning to night)

on Mondays (Tuesday, Sundays, etc.)

most days (nights, weekends, etc.)

while it was warm(a relative period of time: when, if, whenever, before, after)  before sunrise  (after)

every / each / every other  (hour, day, night, week, month, year, May, spring)

 

 

*incorrect / ~awkward or borderline usage

¹ time expressions such as that month or those month  indicate time that is distant, past or perhaps future. When used with past tense, we understand the timing as past time.

² for a while (PP) – can be understood in two ways: (1) having some amount of duration, or (2) being very temporary

³ keep + verb+ing – Repetition can be expressed by using the "keep" (I keep walking.  He kept smiling.)  The progressive with "repeatedly" (*I am walking to class repeatedly. )sounds awkward.

ago (prep.) – is originally from "agone" meaning past. It is currently analyzed as a post-position preposition (Huddleston 7 4.2)

last (Adj) – is the superlative form of latelate, later, last.

Other past tense practice pages:   Past Progressive Mixed ProgressiveWould / Used toReporting SourcePast Series, After v. Before v. When 

 

 

 

 

Verbs of Short and Long Duration

Pairing adverbs with verbs

 

Short or Long Duration?

SHORTER DURATION

Some verbs express activities that are short, instantaneous, detail activities. They tend to occur as singular actions in the nonprogressive or are reworded with kept as repetitive actions in the progressive.                                               

He dropped his glass. 

*He was dropping his glass for a while. [duration]

He kept dropping his glass repeatedly. [repetition]

ask

answer¹

arrive

begin

break

buy

call

catch

close

drop

end

exit

fall

finish

give

look

meet

open

pay

pick

push

put

stand up

tear

turn on

turn off

wave

LONGER DURATION

Other verbs express activities that are longer in duration or repetitive.  Depending on the meaning¹ of the verb the context, these verbs can occur as nonprogressive or progressive.

He cleaned up the broken glass.

He was cleaning up the broken glass for a while. [duration]

He was cleaning up the broken glass repeatedly. [repetition]

argue

answer

build

carry

come

continue

cry

dress

drink

eat

explain

fight

grow

hope

keep

prepare

rain

read

ride

send

sit

sleep

study

travel

walk

wash

watch

 

*incorrect / ~awkward or borderline usage

¹ Some words have more than one lexical (dictionary) meaning:   She saw him. (looked)  She saw him. (visited)

Short duration:  He answered my question whenever I asked him something. (responded) 

Long duration:  He was answering his phone whenever I asked him something. (chatting)

Also see and Verb Meaning & Timing and Duration vs Completion (activity v. accomplishment).

 

 

 

 

Past Tense

Word Order

 

Word Order

  SUBJECT AUXILIARY VERB PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
STATEMENT  NOUN PHRASE AUX VERB VERB NP + ADV
 

Jack

 

drove

home carefully. 

 

Jack and his friend

 

drove

home carefully.

QUESTION        

Did 

Jack

 

drive   

home carefully?

Did 

Jack and his friend

 

drive   

home carefully?

NEGATIVE         
 

Jack

didn't

drive

home carefully.

 

Jack and his friend

didn't

drive

home carefully.

†EMPHASIS        
 

Jack

did

drive

home carefully.

 

Jack and his friend

did

drive

home carefully.
 

†Use emphasis word order when contradicting or stating that the opposite is true: — I think that Jack didn't drive carefully.   — No, he did drive carefully." 

 

 

 

 

Spelling Patterns

Suffixes

 

Regular & Irregular Suffixes (endings)

Suffix –ED FINAL E

woman winkingFor most verbs, add -ed

phone userFor verbs ending in e, add -d.

wink

winked

phone

phoned

ask

asked

bike

biked

want

wanted

date

dated

need

needed

save

saved

FINAL -Y CONSONANT DOUBLING

friedFor verbs ending in -y, remove the y and add -ied.

For words ending with a stressed syllable [C+short vowel+C], double the final consonant and add -ed.

cry

cried

bag

bagged

fry

fried

wed

wedded

dry

dried

pop

popped

try

tried

excel

excelled

 

C – consonant, V – vowel

Also see consonant doubling in the Spelling Workbook (free download)

 

 

 

Double the consonant after a short vowel and add the suffix -ed.

What is a "short" vowel?  These words contain "short" vowel sounds.  

short a — /næp/

short e — /wɛd/

short i — /zɪp/

short o — /tʃɒp/

short u — /hʌg/

napnapping

wedwedding

zip zip

chop chop

hug bumble bee

  

Just a few past tense verbs with a doubled consonant

nap –   napped

wed – wedded

zip – zipped

chop – chopped

hug – hugged

bag –  bagged

step – stepped

clip – clipped

pop – popped

rub – rubbed

bat  –   batted

beg – begged

pit – pitted

jog –   jogged

hum – hummed

wrap – wrapped

trek – trekked

kid  – kidded (joked)

spot – spotted

sun – sunned

 

 

 

 

Irregular Spellings

Vowel Changes

 

Some Irregular Past Tense Verb Forms

PRESENT⇒ PAST PRESENT⇒ PAST

awake

awoke

fall

fell

beat

beat

feel

felt

begin

began

find

found

bite

bit

forgive

forgave

blow

blew

get

got

bring

brought

go

went

buy

bought

hang

hung/hange

choose

chose

hear

heard

cost

cost

hit

hit

dig

dug

hurt

hurt

draw

drew

know

knew

drive

drove

lay

laid

PRESENT⇒ PAST PRESENT⇒ PAST

let

let

shut

shut

lie

lay

sit

sat

lose

lost

slide

slid

loosen

loosened

spend

spent

meet

met

stand

stood

put

put

stick

stuck

read

read

swim

swam

ring

rang

teach

taught

run

ran

tell

told

see

saw

throw

threw

send

sent

wake

woke

shake

shook

wear

wore

 

Related quiz pages: Participle Practice 1 and Participle Practice 2.

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Focus and Solutions

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

I worked there since a year ago.

I was attending classes several times.
 

ERROR

I worked there a year ago. (indefinite time)

I was working there for a year. (defined period)

I attended classes several times.   (repeated activity)

I was attending classes often. (routine activity)

 

 

Images

woman driving. pxhere, 31 Dec. 2016. CC0.

 

 

Practice

George's Study Abroad

Greece
 

Past Progressive versus Nonprogressive

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.


for good (expression) – forever

9.

10.


firm – a small company

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

A Weekend Trip

tent
 

Correct or Incorrect?

  1. Select an option (correct or incorrect) as your response.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the check button.

 

11.
Two friends, and my brother and I went on a weekend trip after school finished in June.

   

12.
We put everything in the back of my car and drived to the mountains to camp for a week.

   

13.
When we arrived there, we setted up our camp site and prepared for lunch.

   

14.
tentSuddenly, my brother said, "Dude, where you put the tent?"

   

15.
replied, "Uh…I thot you pack the tent."

   

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Camping Without a Tent

stream
 

Read for Errors

By accident, we left our tent at home.  We have no idea how to get by without a tent at night. The first night, we were hanging a string between two trees and throwed a blanket over it. However, the blanket falled in our faces, so we sleeping in the car. The next night, we tide the corners of the blanket down. The blanket was stayed in place, but the mosquitoes eating us alive.

As the campers next to us leaving, we ask to buy their old tent.  They agree to sold it to us for very little money. Our problem was solved.  The same day, we catched fish and fryed them. We staying up late and have a good time until the camp fire went out. So we called it a night, crawl into our tent and were falling peacefully asleep.

get by (phrasal verb) – survive with the minimum; live without something

ate us alive (expression) – bit or stung us several times

solve (V) – to find a way to fix or end a problem

the fire went out – was extinguished, the flame was gone

call it a night (expression) – end the late-evening or late-night activity
crawl (V) – move on hands and knees

 

 

 

Edit for errors.

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

16.
By accident, we left the tent at home.  We have no idea how to get by without a tent at night.


17.
Blanket and rope tentThe first night, we were hanging a rope between two trees and throwed a blanket over it.


18.
However, the blanket falled in our faces, so we sleeping in the car.


19.
tie cornersThe next night, we tide the corners of the blanket down.


20.
The blanket was stayed in place, but the mosquitoes eating us alive.


21.
As the campers next to us leaving, we ask to buy their old tent.


22.
They agree to sold it to us for very little money. Our problem was solved.


23.
The same day, we catched fish and fryed them.


24.
campfireWe staying up late and have a good time until the camp fire went out.


25.
crawlSo we called it a night, crawl into our tent and were falling peacefully asleep.