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Lesson 1B

Simple Past or Past Progressive Tense

Past Progressive

We use the past progressive tense to talk about actions that were happening at a certain time in the past.

Using Both Tenses

We often use both the simple past tense and the past progressive tense in the same sentence.

For example, we use the past progressive tense to talk about actions that were continuing when another action happened. We use the simple past for the later action.

We usually use “when” with the simple past and “while” with the past progressive tense.

I was closing the door when I hurt my finger.

I was closing the door (the action was happening — past progressive)

when I hurt my finger. (another action started and finished — simple past)


When the noisy kids arrived, the movie was starting.

When the noisy kids arrived, (the action started and finished — simple past)

the movie was starting. (another action was happening — past progressive)

When we are talking about two actions that happened in the past, we often use the past progressive to talk about the longer action. We use the simple past to talk about the shorter action.

I answered the phone while I was washing the dishes.

I answered the phone (shorter action)

while I was washing the dishes. (longer action)


John was walking down a busy street when someone stole his wallet.

John was walking down a busy street (longer action)

when someone stole his wallet. (shorter action)

If two actions took the same amount of time, we use the same tense to talk about both of the actions. If both of the actions were long, we can use the past progressive tense or the simple past tense.

However, if both of the actions were short, we cannot use the past progressive tense. We have to use the simple past tense.

The ball hit the window and the glass broke.

NOT The ball was hitting the window and the glass was breaking.