past simple vs past continuous

Past simple vs past continuous. Find out what is the difference between past simple and past continuous. In this post you will find theory and exercises.

If you don’t remember how to form past simple – check here, if you want to revise past continuous – go here.

Past simple vs past continuous:

I) We use past continuous to talk about an activity that lasted a longer period of time or an activity that is a backround to the story. We use past simple to describe activities that lasted shorter period of time or activities that interrupted another ongoing activity.


  1. She was sleeping when the phone rang.
  2. The car hit her, when she was running acoss the street.

II) Past continuous expresses imperfective aspect of a verb – we know that action happened, but we don’t know if it was finished. Past simple expresses perfective aspect of a verb – we know that action was finished


Example 1:

a) He read a book. – He finished reading.

b) He was reading a book. – We don’t know if he finished

Example 2:

a) He repaired the car – He finished repairing.

b) He was repairing the car – We don’t know if he finished.

If we have problem with deciding which tense should be used, we can ask following questions:

  1. Which activity was longer? (P.C)
  2. Which activity is a background to the story? (P.C.)
  3. Which activity was shorter? (P.S.)

Be careful!

If we describe a series of action happening one after another, we use past simple


  1. He got up, ate breakfast and left the house.
  2. He turned on the computer, answered e-mails and went to bed.

Practise online:

Learn the theory from this lesson and then do the online exercises to check how much you have remembered.

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