Grammar Time: Past Simple or Past Continuous

Should I Use Past Simple or Past Continuous?

The Past Continuous and the Past Simple help us to show how two past actions or situations are connected.

The Past Simple shows us that an action was in the past, not in the present.

The Past Continuous shows us that the action was already in progress at a certain time in the past.

When we use these two tenses together, it shows us that the Past Simple action happened in the middle of the Past Continuous action, while it was in progress.

Exam in mind Level A2/B1

Exercise 1. Put in the Past Simple or Past Continuous.

  1. He ______________ (write) a letter when I ______________ (see) him.
  2. Harry _______________ (do) his work while his brothers ______________(play) games.
  3. The man ______________ (fall down) as he ________________ (run) for the bus.
  4. We _______________ (sing) a song when George ______________ (come) into the room.
  5. While the teacher ________________ (give) a lesson, a small dog ____________(walk) into the room.
  6. When the phone bell __________ (ring), I ________________ (work) in the garden.
  7. My hat ____________ (blow off) while I ______________ (cross) the bridge.
  8. The rain ____________ (begin) to fall while we ______________ (watch) the game.
  9. Just as I _______________ (get) interested in my work, I ____________ (have) to go home.
  10. He ______________ (lose) his pocket-book while he ____________ (see) the sights of Rome.

Exercise 2. Say what you or your friends were doing at the time when another action occurred.

Example: When I came home my family were having their tea.

Use the list of words:

to arrive home, to see you, to ask somebody to the phone, to call on somebody, to get up, to telephone;

to play the violin, to knit a pullover, to play badminton, to do one’s homework, to listen to the news broadcast, to have a rest.

Exercise 3. Make up your own sentences on the following patterns:

  1. While you were writing letters, I was reading a book.
  2. While we were having breakfast, John was talking on the phone.

Use the following words:

to watch TV, to have lunch, to sleep, to tell a story, to knit, to sow seeds, to dig up potatoes, to pick plums, to water flowers, to clean the windows, to polish the floors, to iron the blouse, to take a shower, to listen to the news broadcast, to wash the dishes, to repair one’s radio, to have a birthday party.

Exercise 4. Tell what happened while another activity was taking place.

Example: I fell and hurt my leg badly while I was skiing.

List of words:

to see somebody, to drop one’s watch, to lose one’s wallet, to break the cup, to forget the word, to understand the sentence, to spend all one’s money;

to cross the street, to wind one’s watch, to walk in the forest, to pour tea, to look up the word in the dictionary, to translate the sentence, to go shopping.

Exercise 5. Complete the sentences in your own way:

  1. It was snowing heavily when …
  2. She was having lunch when …
  3. We were listening to music when …
  4. When I saw him, he …
  5. When he opened the door, they …
  6. We were swimming in the river when …
  7. They were having their holidays when …
  8. It was going to rain when …
  9. We were returning home when …
  10. I was skating on the ice-rink when …

Exercise 6. Put in the Past Simple or Past Continuous.

Mrs. May, our District Nurse, ______ (drive) home at 3 a.m. one night after an urgent visit to a sick patient. She ______ (drive) along a deserted country lane, when she ______ (see) a new kind of animal. She ______ (stop) her car and ______ (get out). The animal ______ (be) clearly visible in the blaze of her headlights. It ______ (look) like a hedgehog with a tall white hat. It ______ (cross) the road without paying any attention to Mrs. May. When Mrs. May______ (go) close to it, she ______ (notice) that there was a plastic yoghurt pot on the hedgehog’s head. The poor creature had got its head stuck in the plastic pot! Her instincts as a nurse ______ (tell) her she would have to rescue it, so she ______ (pull) at the pot, but the hedgehog ______ (pull) too. After a struggle, She ______ (pull) the pot off the hedgehog’s head. Mrs. May ______ (think) the hedgehog ______ (look) rather sad, when she ______ (notice) that the pot was half full of strawberry yoghurt. She ______ (give) it back to the hedgehog. The creature ______ (seize) it, ______ (put) it on its head again, and triumphantly __________ (continue) its journey across the road.