Unlike the past simple, which either ends in 'ed' or is entirely different from the base form, the past continuous (as its name suggests) has a continuous form of the verb.
The form is:
S (I/you/we etc.)+ was/were + verb-ing
The following are the some of the ways the past continuous is used:
1). The past continuous talks about an action that happened over a period of time in the past:
I was eating food; she wasn’t running; the bear was eating some salmon
Although we can talk about a past time over a period using the past simple, the past continuous is different in that it is focused on the process/action that was happening in a particular time period. The past simple, on the other hand, is more focused on an action finishing. Look at the differences between these for example:
2). The past simple and past progressive (another way of saying continuous past ) are often used together when there has been an interruption, or to describe something that happened while the longer event was occurring.
Take the following timeline as an example:
In the above example, Jonny was shooting a gun (past continuous), when he was interrupted by the man who told him to stop (past simple). We often use this grammar to describe interrupted events in the past, and we often use 'while, as, as soon as and when' to do this.
Take the following examples too, which describe interruptions, or one shorter action simultaneously occurring with an action over a longer period of time:
I was running, when a dog jumped on me
The television turned off, while I was switching channels
As he was completing his homework, the teacher walked into the classroom
3). Any time an action is repeated over a period of time, the past continuous is NOT the correct tense to use:
I went to school 4 times last week (NOT: I was going to school 4 times last week)
The teacher shouted at me a few times (NOT: The teacher was shouting at me a few times)
4). Another difference between the past simple and past continuous is that the past simple is better at describing longer events and actions, or permanent actions or events, whereas the past continuous is better at describing temporary actions in the past.
Take the following examples:
5). This also means the past progressive is useful for adding details onto the more important piece of information (which is usually expressed in the past simple):
I spoke to my hero Teddy Sheringham yesterday
As I was speaking to my hero Teddy Sheringham yesterday, he said ……