Grammar | Past Simple and Past Continuous TOC
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In Grammar | Past Simple and Past Continuous episode, you will learn about the past simple and past continuous and all the differences between them. We will talk briefly about forming them, but we will focus more on using the past simple and past continuous.

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Welcome to a new episode from English Plus podcast. And today it’s all about grammar. And in our grammar episode, we will talk about the past simple and the past continuous. We have a lot to cover, but we’ll make things as easy to remember as possible. So let’s start with a very basic thing. How we can form the past simple and how we can form the past continuous or the past progressive as some call it.

[00:00:33] Now to talk about the form of the past simple. I have this very small passage that I will read to you about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

[00:00:42] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian musician and composer. He lived from 1756 to 1791. He started composing at the age of five and wrote more than 600 pieces of music. He was only 35 years old when he died.

[00:01:04] So we have many verbs here in the past simple; the past simple obviously talks about things that happened in the past, but we will talk more about when to use the past simple and the differences we have between the past simple and the past continuous down the line in this episode, but for now let’s focus on the form of the past simple.

[00:01:24] We have many verbs that we used in the past simple here. We said Mozart was an Austrian musician and composer. Obviously ‘was’ is the past of ‘is’ because if we want to talk about the present, we say Mozart is a composer, but since he’s dead and we are talking about something that happened in the past, we should use the past form of verb to be.

[00:01:49] And here we use ‘was’, so do we have a rule about this when it is ‘is’ we say ‘was’ so when it is something else that ends with ‘I S’ we add ‘W A S’. No. What we have here is an irregular verb. Irregular verbs, one of them is verb to be. Verb to be in the past is, was, or were we say, I, he, she, it was. And for the others, we say were W E R E. Let’s take a look at the other verbs.

[00:02:18] We said he lived from 1756 to 1791, and we also said he died at the end. He was only 35 years old when he died. So we have something in common here. And actually we have a rule that we add ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb to make the verb past or in the past simple. So for live, we add ‘-ed’ obviously, because there is an E at the end, so we don’t double the E’s, we just add a D, but for other verbs, like pass, we say passed or work, we say worked ‘-ed’. So these are regular verbs. But many verbs in English are irregular. Like one of the verbs we used here when we talked about Mozart and that is wrote, we said he started composing at the age of five. Well started is a regular verb, but then we said, and wrote more than 600 pieces of music; wrote is the past of write.

[00:03:20] If we look at it and we try to figure out a rule, we will get nowhere because that’s simply an irregular verb. And for irregular verbs, he will have to check a list of irregular verbs, which is available online, just search for irregular verbs online, and you will get the full list to check the other verbs that are in this big list of irregular verbs.

[00:03:42] So this is how we create or how we form the past simple. How about the past continuous let’s take a look at this example. Yesterday, Karen and Joe played tennis. Well that’s past simple play played ed past simple, regular verb. They started at 10 o’clock and finished at 11:30. Still. We have regular verbs, we have past simple, but look at this. So at 10:30 they were playing tennis. We have verb to be, which is were in this case, because we said they were, and we have the main verb, which is play with ING playing, they work playing tennis.

[00:04:23] So in order to form the past continuous, we have to add verb to be whether it is, was or were, depending on the subject, of course he, she, it or I was, and we, you, they were, and then. The verb that you want to use, which is the main verb. The verb that has the actual meaning should come in -ing form play playing do doing work working, et cetera. So that is in a nutshell, how we can form the past simple and the past continuous.

[00:04:57] But now for the more important thing, when do we use the past simple and when do we use the past continuous? So let’s get to it. When we use the past simple, we mean that the action is complete in the past a complete action, but the past continuous we’re talking about something in the middle of an action.

[00:05:19] Like when we say we walked home after the party last night, We walked all the way, et cetera, but that is complete. The action is complete, but when we say we were walking home when I met Dan. Now I met Dan is a point in time in the middle of another action I was doing. I was walking home or we were walking home when I met Dan or  Kate was watching TV when we arrived. We arrived in the middle of an action. Kate was watching TV. She was in the middle of this action, and then we arrived. So when we pinpoint a moment in time and that moment in time happens to be in the middle of another action that was continuous; that started happening before that moment in time and probably continued happening after, or it didn’t doesn’t matter.

[00:06:15] But what matters is that we pinpointed this moment in time. And this moment is in the middle of an action. This action that was in the middle of happening should be in the past continuous. We were walking home when I met Dan. Kate was watching TV when we arrived. Well, that’s not all there is more to the past simple and past continuous, so stay with me.

[00:06:42] So we talked about the past simple that indicates that an activity or situation began and ended at a particular time in the past. We can say, I walk to school yesterday. It’s done. It’s over. We say, John lived in Paris for 10 years, but now he lives in Rome. So yeah, he lived in Paris. It lasted for 10 years.

[00:07:04] It is a very long period of time, but it is over. It is complete. He lives now in Rome, or we say, I bought a new car three days ago. That’s it, it happened it’s over, but let me talk more about when we use, when, because that is very important and it holds a lot of the differences between the past simple and the past continuous.

[00:07:28] First, let’s take a look at some examples when we use the past simple in both clauses. Let’s take a look at this example. Rita stood under a tree when it began to rain. So if a sentence contains when and has the simple past in both clauses the action in the when clause happens first. When we just want to say what happened first.

[00:07:52] We can do that. Rita stood under a tree when it began to rain. So if you ask yourselves here, which thing happened first? Obviously it began to rain first. Then Rita stood under a tree. Maybe that’s why she stood under a tree in the first place. But here, the important thing is that when we use simple past in both clauses when we use when the action in the when clause happens first.

[00:08:20] And that’s why we use when, just to show what happens first of course you can use after, before, but when is another way, so let’s take a look at another example. When Mrs. Chu heard a strange noise, she got up to investigate. So what happened first? First she heard that strange noise. Then she got up to investigate.

[00:08:41] When she heard the noise, she got up to investigate. When I dropped my cup, the coffee spilled on my lap. So, I dropped my cup first. Obviously the coffee spilled on my lap as a result. So this is when we use past simple in both clauses. But what if we use past continuous in one clause and past simple in another clause, let’s take a look at these examples.

[00:09:05] I was walking down the street when it began to rain. So it is different here when it began to rain. If we look at these two actions, when it began to rain, I was walking. Can we say that it began to rain before I started walking? No, actually I was walking. I started walking first. I was in the middle of the walking action when it started to rain.

[00:09:29] So it is different. It is not like when we use past simple in both clauses. So here we have two actions. I was walking down the street. The second action is it began to rain. Both actions occurred at the same time, but one action began earlier and was in progress when the other action occurred. So that is the difference.

[00:09:52] And we can use while in this case, but we use while with the present continuous. So I can say with exactly the same meaning: While I was walking down the street, it began to rain. In the first one, remember I said I was walking down the street when it began to rain here, I can say While I was walking down the street, it began to rain, but now let’s take a look at another example at eight o’clock last night I was studying.

[00:10:17] Well, that is a little bit different from when, but what’s the deal here? What am I trying to say? Why did I use the past continuous? Well, my studying began before eight, obviously because it was in progress at this time and probably continued after eight. This is when you aske me, what were you doing yesterday at eight o’clock.

[00:10:38] I called you, but you didn’t answer. You may say at eight o’clock last night I was studying, I was sleeping. I was taking a shower, et cetera. You were in the middle of an action. Remember, this is very important. Yes. We said it at the beginning and it’s a very simple way to define the use of the past continuous, but it is actually the essential thing we need to put in mind when we want to use the past continuous.

[00:11:03] And let’s talk about one more example when we can use the past continuous in both clauses, we can say, while I was studying in one room of our apartment, my roommate was having a party in the other room. So sometimes the past continuous is used in both parts of a sentence. When two actions are in progress simultaneously.

[00:11:25] At the same time. Well, that is again, in a nutshell, the difference between the past simple and the past continuous and how we can use them, but there’s more. There’s more we need to know, and there are other situations when we can use both, but the difference in meaning is slight.

[00:11:44] And here, I would like to remind you of something when we talked about the present continuous and the present simple. Remember whenever we talk about continuous, we talk about temporary action. And this is very important for you to remember because sometimes it’s not about what’s right, and what’s wrong. It’s about what you mean to say. And this is very important for you to understand when you want to understand and use tenses correctly and here, forget about what’s correct and what’s incorrect. In many cases in English, you will find that many tenses are possible and the meaning is not that different. But the focus, what you want to say, what you mean to say is different based on the tense you choose.

[00:12:32] Saying that let’s move on to talk about some advanced examples, but they are necessary for you to understand even more about the difference between the past simple and the past continuous. Now we already said that we can use past continuous in both clauses when we use when, or we can use the past simple in one in the past continuous in another. So here, let’s take a look at this example and we can use it in two different ways. We can use the past simple or the past continuous.

[00:13:01] We can say when I was learning the drive, I was living with my parents, or I can say when I learned to drive, I was living with my parents. Possible? Obviously yes. Grammatically correct? Definitely. Is there a difference meaning? Not that much, but there is a slight difference in what we are emphasizing.

[00:13:22] What are we focusing on? What are we trying to say? If we use was learning, which is obviously the past continuous. When I was learning to drive, I was living with my parents, here I am emphasizing that the activity was in progress. So I had lessons during this time. But when I say, when I learned to drive, I was living with my parents.

[00:13:47] My focus is different. I’m focusing here on the completion. I am trying to tell you, I passed my test during this time not I had lessons. So you see, it’s not about right and wrong. It’s about what you’re trying to say, or what are you trying to focus on in this very simple sentence? When in doubt, use the one you feel more comfortable about, but at least know that tenses are weapons for you to express yourself in a more profound way.

[00:14:19] If you want to focus on specific details, that is one weapon you can use that you can take from English grammar.

[00:14:27] Alright, now we will talk about another situation when we can use the past simple or the past continuous with a slight difference in meaning. We usually use the past simple rather than the past continuous to talk about repeated past actions, like when we say: We went to Spain three times last year, or Did you drive past her house every day? So that is the regular thing. When we talk about repeated actions, we usually use the past simple, not the past continuous. However, we can use the past continuous, especially in spoken English when we want to emphasize that repeated actions went on for a limited and temporary period of past time.

[00:15:09] So remember this word very carefully, temporary. That is key. When you want to use past continuous or any kind of continuous. Any other tense that is continuous, temporary or limited time is very important because that is the core of the meaning of continuous, the meaning of the continuous tenses. So we can use the past continuous instead of the past simple, like when we say.

[00:15:36] When she was in hospital, we were visiting her twice a day. Now we can say we visited her twice a day. Absolutely correct. But if you want to emphasize that the repeated action went on for a limited or temporary period of time in the past, obviously, we can use the past continuous. It is stronger. It is more expressive.

[00:15:58] That’s what I’m trying to say. Or we can say to lose weight before the race. I wasn’t eating any biscuits for weeks, but that is something temporary. And I did it only before, because I wanted to lose weight then. It happened only for a limited time. That’s what I’m trying to say, but I don’t say all this stuff. I just use the past continuous and it says it all.

[00:16:20] Or sometimes we can use the past continuous to talk about something that happens surprisingly often. That is also something we’re trying to emphasize. Like when we say last week I was having to bring work home every night to get it all done. So you can say had it’s correct. Last week I had to bring work home every night to get it all done,  but there’s no more meaning to it.

[00:16:43] I’m just telling you what happened, but when we say I was having to, I am adding another layer to the meaning, and that is I’m talking about something that happens surprisingly often.

[00:16:56] Well, that being said, it leaves me with one last thing I would like to talk about that has to do with a past continuous and has to do with a very specific meaning that we can convey if we use the past continuous.

[00:17:09] And that is when we want to talk about unfulfilled intentions, intentions that we had, but they were unfulfilled. Like when we say Jack was going to go to the movie last night, but he changed his mind. He had the intention to go, but it didn’t happen. So we can use was,/were going to, to talk about past intentions.

[00:17:34] Usually these are unfulfilled intentions, activities someone intended to do, but did not do now here, when we said Jack was going to go to the movie last night, but he changed his mind. What we’re trying to say that Jack was planning to go to the movies, but he didn’t go. Or we can use other expressions as well.

[00:17:53] Not only was/were going to, we can use plan, hope, intend, or think about. Take a look at these examples. I was planning to go, but I didn’t, or I was hoping to go, but I couldn’t, or I was intending to go, but I didn’t, or I was thinking about going, but I didn’t, and don’t underestimate the importance of this use because we use it all the time in our speaking.

[00:18:19] Yeah, I was planning to call you. I was meaning to call you. I was hoping to do this, but I couldn’t. And a lot of the times you even don’t have to say, but I didn’t, because it’s obvious. Now here, when you say I was planning to do something, the listener understands immediately that it didn’t happen or not yet, actually, you can say I was planning to call him and I can ask you, did you?

[00:18:45] Well, it’s obvious that I didn’t, because I said I was planning to call her, but I didn’t, you don’t have to use, but I didn’t all the time because it’s understood. So this is another very important to use for the past continuous that you can add to your arsenal in, not grammar only, not your grammar arsenal in your meaning arsenal.

[00:19:05] Now you can express more meanings in your conversation or in your writing, obviously, using grammar as a tool. Think about grammar as a tool. Don’t think about it as right or wrong, or as a hurdle, as an obstacle. It is not an obstacle. Actually grammar frees you to do or to express things you weren’t able to express or at least to express things with fewer words.

[00:19:33] Remember when we say I was planning to go, you don’t have to tell me I was thinking about it, and I had my plans to do this, but then things happened and I couldn’t do it. You don’t have to say all that. You just say I was planning to do it, period. That’s it. The person who’s listening to, you will understand that you didn’t do it.

[00:19:52] Or the same for the other examples we talked about, especially about how temporary the action is, and that is specific for the continuous. Now I hope you found this episode useful, and I hope it gave you some more grammatical weapons you can use in your conversations and writing. And we will meet more to talk about more grammatical weapons you can add to your arsenal that you can use for your conversation and your writing.

[00:20:17] Don’t forget that you can find the transcript of this episode in the link you can find in the description and don’t forget to support us on Patreon because your support will help us carry on and realize the big dream of having an English plus radio station 24/7 bbroadcasting quality education for free for everybody. [00:20:38] This is Danny your host. Thank you very much for listening to another episode from English Plus podcast. I will see you next time.