The Past Continuous Tense and the Past Simple Compared

Exam in Mind Level B1 / B2

The Past Continuous is used to describe:

  • past action in progress at a given point in time: She was still working at eight o’clock yesterday evening. 
  • past action in progress interrupted by another past action: She was leaving when the phone rang.
  • simultaneous past actions: While Jane was getting dressed, Tom was enjoying his drink.
  • past actions of unusual frequency to convey a feeling of annoyance, irritation or criticism with the adverbials of frequency always, constantly, all the time,  always, continually, forever, again:  In those days he was always borrowing money.
  • a polite request or suggestion referring to the present: I was wondering if I could be of any help.

Time expressions: while, as, all morning/ day, etc.

Use the Past Simple and Past Continuous

Exercise 1. Read the answers and then complete the questions.

  1. How many times _______? – He went to the cinema five times last month. Could you believe it?
  2. What _______? – This time last year? I was travelling across Africa.
  3. When _______? – They got the telegram at midnight.
  4. How many _______? – As far as I can remember Shakespeare wrote at least 36 plays.
  5. Why _______? – Well, she didn’t feel well, so she left the party rather early.
  6. When _______? – Cathy? I first met her two years ago.
  7. Who _______? It’s reported that Sam was driving at the time of the accident.
  8. What letter _______? – You know the other day we got a strange letter from Jack.
  9. _______ or _______? – Watching TV? Oh no, I was revising for my exam all night yesterday.
  10. Why _______? – I called Jim to tell him good news.
  11. How long _______? – You won’t believe it, but it took Mary only a month to decorate her flat.
  12. When _______? – As far as I know she joined our company two years ago.
  13. Why _______? – They put off the match because of the heavy rain.
  14. What _______? – So you spent a sleepless night as well. Our neighbours were celebrating their silver anniversary all night yesterday.
  15. Where _______? – She bought a nice pair of shoes at Macy’s.

Exercise 2. Choose the correct tense form using the Past Simple and Past Continuous.

  1. Two burglars (break)_______ into the house while we (watch) _______ TV.
  2. What you (do) _______ when the police officer (knock) _______ on the door?
  3. When Jack (prepare) _______ lunch, he (cut) _______ his finger.
  4. While I (wait) _______ for the bus, I (meet) _______ Karen.
  5. I (wash) _______ up while he (dry) _______ the dishes.
  6. When Harry (wake up) _______, we (tell) _______ him the good news.
  7. Everyone (wait) _______ for the concert to begin when a message (arrive) _______.
  8. I (lie) _______ in the bath when the phone (ring) _______. It (stop) _______ after a few rings.
  9. When I (open) _______ a cupboard door, a pile of books (fall) _______ out.
  10. When I (walk) _______ in they all (talk) _______ about the babies.
  11. At six o’clock this morning I (have) _______ a wonderful dream, but then the alarm (go) _______ off.
  12. I (see) _______ Sid when I (come) _______ to work this morning. He (shop) _______.
  13. This time yesterday I (lie) _______ on the beach and you (study) _______ in the library.
  14. When Jake (come) _______ in everybody (stop) _______ talking.
  15. I (look) _______ out of the window and (see) _______ that we (fly) _______ over the mountains.
  16. While my Dad (paint) _______ the ceiling he (spill) _______ some paint on the floor.
  17. In those days he (borrow) _______ always money and (forget) _______ to pay it back.
  18. She (drink) _______ some water and (lie) _______ back against the pillows.
  19. I (go) _______ to see how she (be) _______ and (find) _______ she (cry) _______.
  20. I (work) _______ upstairs when the accident (happen) _______.
  21. When she (hear) _______ the news, she (begin) _______ to cry.
  22. In May last year, she (study) _______ hard for her final exam.
  23. While I (drive)_______ along this morning, I (think) _______ about what you’d said.
  24. Mary (not/wear) _______ her glasses at the time, so she (not/notice) _______ what kind of car the man (drive)_______.
  25. While I (try) _______ to get the car started, a passing car (stop) _______ and the driver (offer) _______ to help me.
  26. I (walk) _______ along the street when suddenly I (feel) _______ something hit me in the back. I (not know) _______ what it (be)_______.
  27. Your friend who (come) _______ here the other day (seem) _______ very nice. I (enjoy) _______ meeting him.
  28. When I (see) _______ the man he (stand) _______ outside the bank. He (wear) _______ dark coat and a black baseball cap.
  29. The airport (be) _______ full of people. Some (sleep) _______ on benches, some (shop) _______, others (read)_______. Everyone (wait) _______ for news of the delayed plane.
  30. The wind (blow) _______ and the rain (beat) _______ down. John (stand) _______ at the bus stop. He (try) _______ to imagine being at home sitting by a warm fire. Finally he (see) _______ the headlights of the bus approaching from the distance. 

Exercise 3. Use the Past Simple and Past Continuous of the verbs in parentheses.

  1. I am sitting in class right now. I (sit) _______ in class at this exact same time yesterday.
  2. I don’t want to go to the zoo today because it is raining. The same thing happened yesterday. I (want, not) _______ to go to the zoo because it (rain) _______.
  3. I (call) _______ Roger at nine last night, but he (be, not) _______ at home. He (study) _______ at the library.
  4. I (hear, not) _______ the thunder during the storm last night because I (sleep) _______.
  5. It was beautiful yesterday when we went for a walk in the park. The sun (shine) _______. A cool breeze (blow) _______. The birds (sing) _______.
  6. My brother and sister (argue) _______ about something when I (walk) _______ into the room.
  7. I got a package in the mail. When I (open) _______ it, I (find) _______ a surprise.
  8. While Mrs. Emerson (read) _______ the little boy a story, he (fall) _______ asleep, so she (close) _______ the book and quietly (tiptoe) _______ out of the room.
  9. Why weren’t you at the meeting? – I (wait) _______ for an overseas call from my family.
  10. (you, hear) _______ what she just said? – No, I (listen, not) _______. I (think) _______ about something else.
  11. How (you, break) _______ your arm? – I (slip) _______ on the ice while I (cross) _______ the street in front of the dorm.
  12. I’m sure you met Carol Jones at the party last night. – I don’t remember her. What (she, wear) _______?
  13. It was my first day at class. I (find, finally) _______ the right room. The room (be, already) _______ full of students. On one side of the room, students (talk, busily) _______ to each other in Spanish. Other students (speak) _______ Japanese, and some (converse) _______ in Arabic. It sounded like the United Nations. Some of the students, however, (sit, just) _______ quietly by themselves. I (choose) _______ an empty seat in the last row and (sit) _______ down. In a few minutes, the teacher (walk) _______ into the room and all the multilingual conversation (stop) _______.
  14. I really enjoyed my vacation last January. While it (snow) _______ in Toronto, the sun (shine) _______ in Florida. While you (shovel) _______ snow in Iowa, I (lie) _______ on the beach in Florida.