The Past Continuous has a variety of uses in English. It’s main purpose, is to describe an action in the past that continued to progress over a period of time.
We form the Past Continuous by taking the past form of the auxiliary ‘to be’ and adding -ing to the end of a main verb.
Subject + AUX. V. ‘to be’ (past) + Main V. + -ing + Object
Daniel was playing billiards
Often, the Past Continuous is interrupted by another event in the past, which presents itself in the form of the Past Simple. For example, in the sentence above, we can interrupt Daniel’s game of billiards via a telephone, including more details about this specific time in the past.
Daniel was playing billiards when his cell phone rang.
By interrupting his game of billiards, Daniel’s cell phone becomes more emphatic than the initial action “playing billiards”. Therefore, the Past Continuous is best used to provide information about what was happening before something more important intervened.
Similar to example above, the Past Continuous can be used to ‘set the scene’ of a story. When we open a book for the first time, the text makes use of the Past Continuous to establish a ‘setting’. This ‘setting’ provides the reader with more knowledge about the ‘world of a text’.
Such a beautiful Sunday morning. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and the flowers were beginning to blossom. Children were playing in the park, while their mothers were chatting away and smiling brightly.
The example above demonstrates how the Past Continuous may be used to set up a positive scene within a story. However, as a past tense, it is just as capable of emphasizing something chaotic.
What a stressful morning! The dog was barking, the kids were complaining. My brother was shouting and my wife wasn’t listening to a word I said. Sunday, bloody, Sunday!
Finally, the Past Continuous may be used to express negative individual habits from the past.
Raymond was always complaining about the poor weather during our stay in London.
Nicholas and Orlando were always making fun of the other students in class.
As a teenager, she was always talking on her cell phone.