What is the Past Progressive Tense? Definition, Examples of English Tenses

Past progressive definition: The past progressive tense is a verb tense that indicates a continuing action or an action in progress that started in the past.

What is the Past Progressive?

The past progressive tense is a verb tense.

The past progressive tense indicates a continuing action or an action in progress that started in the past. The past progressive expresses events that lasted for a duration of time in the past.

The past progressive tense is also used in the past perfect progressive.

Examples of sentences with past progressive:

  • I was riding a bike when I saw the accident.
  • I was working on that paper yesterday.

Forming the Past Progressive

The past progressive tense is formed with a past “to be” verb conjugation and the present participle of a verb (-ing ending).

To form the past progressive:

  • Subject + was/were + present participle of verb

past progressive verb

Subjects with their appropriate past “to be” conjugation for past progressive:

  • I was
  • You were
  • He/She/It was
  • We were
  • They were


  • Subject (you)
  • Verb (to be=were)
  • Participle (going)
  • Sentence: You were going to the party.
  • Subject (I)
  • Verb (to be=was)
  • Participle (trying)
  • Sentence: I was trying a new recipe.

Uses of the Past Progressive

progressive past tense The past progressive is used to express:

  • Duration
    • This refers to events that started in the past but were ongoing. That is, they continued for a period of time.
      • I was reading.
      • You were thinking.
      • They were recalling.
      • We were remembering.
      • She was insinuating.
  • Interrupted actions in progress
    • This refers to actions that were taking place in the past when another action took place and interrupted them (simple past).
      • My wife was sleeping when I woke her up.
      • They were recalling the event when the alarm sounded.
      • He was finishing his homework when I called.
      • We were ordering when you interrupted.
      • I lost my headphones while I was visiting New York.
  • Actions happening at the same time
    • This refers to events in the past that happened simultaneously.
      • I was lying on the bed while I was reading.
      • You were talking as you were thinking.
      • They were sitting by the fire and recalling the day’s events.
      • We were ordering and you were interrupting.
      • She was reading as I was arriving.
  • Polite question
    • This refers to using a particular tone when inquiring. This is used in formal situations.
      • He was wondering if you could assist him.
      • I was wondering if you know where to find the restroom.
      • We were wondering how to get to the train station.
      • I was hoping you could help me.


Define past progressive: the definition of past progressive is the tense used to describe ongoing activity in the past.

In summary, the past progressive tense:

  • is used to express past actions that occurred over a length of time
  • is formed with the “to be” verb and a present participle
  • is also used to form the past perfect progressive