What is the difference between simple past and past continuous tenses? The simple past and the past continuous are two tenses commonly used to make general statements about the past. Although they are both past tenses their uses are quite different.
The simple past tense is only used to say that something happened at some time in the past.The simple past tense is commonly used with past time adverbs like yesterday, last week, last year etc.Examples: Did you meet James yesterday? Yes, I met him. Sam played basketball when he was at university. I bought new car last month. Regular past simple verbs have -ed at the end (e.g. called, played, arrived). Irregular verbs have a different form, usually with a different vowel sound (e.g. wake → woke, break → broke, feel → felt).
The past continuous tense is mainly used to talk about past events that were in progress at a particular point of time in the past. Example: Three years ago, we were living in my home town. This tense form is also used to talk about events happening at the same time that something important happened in the past.
Note that we use the simple past to denote the action that happened in the middle of the longer action denoted by the past continuous tense.Examples: When I woke up this morning, it was raining. We were watching television when the power went off.The children were sleepingwhen their mother got home.I was having dinner when the lights went out.I tried to give him some advice, but he wasn’t listening.
We often use these tenses to show an action interrupting another action. Examples: As I was walking down the street, I saw a strange sight. I was watching a film when I suddenly saw him.
Can you see a difference in the meaning of these two sentences?When the guests arrived, Sheela was cooking dinner. When the guests arrived, Sheela cooked dinner.In the first one, Sheela started cooking dinner before the guests arrived. We know that because it uses the past continuous. In the second sentence, the guests arrived first and then Sheela started cooking.
Now, do the following exercise to test your understanding of simple past and past continuous tenses.
Complete the sentences using appropriate form of the verbs
1.When I woke up this morning, it ……..
a)rained b)raining c)was raining d)is raining
2. We………….television when the power went off.
a)were watching b)watching c)watched d)are watching
3.As I was buying food, I …..hungry.
a)was feeling b)feeling c)am feeling d)felt
4.As I was watching on the internet, I……to chat.
a)was starting b)started c)am starting d) had stated
5.I was sleeping. I ……the door bell.
a)didn’t hear b)hear c)heard d)was hearing
6.When the guests arrived, Sheela…….dinner.
a)cooking b)cooked c)was cooking d)is cooking
7.When the guests……, Sheela cooked dinner.
a)was arriving b)arrived c)arriving d)were arrived
8.He….money from the rich and gave it to the poor.
a)was stealing b)stealing c)stolen d)stole
9. What………then? I was watching.
a)were you doing b)was doing c)doing d)have you doing
10.Did you meet James yesterday? Yes, I……him
a)was meeting b)meeting c)met d)had met
11.I cooked the dinner while James……the house.
a)was cleaning b)cleaned c)cleaning d)had cleaned
12.The children……..when their mother got home.
a)slept b)was sleeping c)had slept d)were sleeping
13.I …….dinner when the lights went out.
a)was having b)am having c)had d)had had
14.I …..new car last month.
a)had bought b)was buying c)bought d)have bought
15. As I……down the street, I saw a strange sight.
a)were walking b)was walking c)walked d)had walked
16.I ……..a film when I suddenly saw him.
a)watching b)watched c)had watching d)was watching
17.Sam…….basketball when he was at university.
a)played b)has played c)was playing d)had played
18.As I …….near the restaurant, someone stole my bag.
a)waited b)waiting c)was waiting d)had waited
19.Three years ago, we…….in my home town.
a)were living v)had lived c)lived d)living
20.I tried to give him some advice, but he…….
a)couldn’t listen b)wasn’t listening c)weren’t listening d)isn’t listening
Answers: 1)c, 2)a, 3)d, 4)b, 5)a, 6)c, 7)b, 8)d, 9)a, 10)c, 11)b, 12)d, 13)a, 14)c, 15)b, 16)d, 17)a, 18)c, 19)a, 20)b