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Past Progressive

The Past Progressive Tense indicates continuing action, something that was happening, going on, at some point in the past. This tense is formed with the helping "to be" verb, in the past tense, plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending).

Describing a past event

The past progressive is one of the several verb tenses within the English language that you can use in order to talk about an event that occurred in the past. Structurally, you form the past progressive by combining the helping verb "was" with the present participle of the relevant verb. 

The present participle is usually the "-ing" form of a verb. So, this is a pretty simple construction. You use the past progressive in order to talk about a continuing action that took place in the past. This is an action that happens not in an instant, but rather has a given duration. 

Using past progressive properly

Here is an example of the past progressive being used correctly within a sentence. 

"Because of the man was always picking intellectual fights with people, his friends had jokingly taken to calling him Socrates." 

In this sentence, "was always picking" is a correct use of the past progressive. 

Now, here is an example of the past progressive being used in an incorrect way

"He was rode his bicycle when he suddenly realized that he was lost and that it was later in the evening that he had expected."

In this sentence, the past participle rode should be replaced by the present participle riding. 

In case you are still a little confused, here are a couple rules you can follow when trying to make use of the past progressive. 

  1. The past progressive is especially useful for saying that one thing happened in the past while something else was also happening in the past. In other words, it can be used to indicate that an instantaneous action occurred within the context of a continuous action. For example, you could say that a man lost something while doing something else. 
  2. Like all progressive forms, the past progressive can be used to call specific and immediate attention to the experience of the person performing a given action. You could say that you "did" something; but if you said that you "were doing" something, this calls more attention to your actual experience of the doing. 

Multiple uses for past progressive

The unique value of the past progressive tense perhaps consists of its capacity to allow for the reporting of one action within the context of another, ongoing action. For example, you could say that someone had a good idea while he was doing something else. There would be no way to say this without the use of the past progressive. Other than this, the past progressive's function can be considered somewhat redundant, or overlapping with the function of the simple past tense. Both tenses are simply ways of saying that something happened in the past. 

The past progressive is like the past perfect progressive, in that it implies that the action in question was completed in the past. However, the same is also true with the simple past tense. The main difference may be that whereas the past perfect progressive calls specific attention to this completion, the past progressive leaves the matter somewhat ambiguous. Again, though, the simple past tense also contains this kind of ambiguity. The past progressive is primarily just valuable for the report of simultaneous past actions. Again, though, it is also useful for conveying a sense of immediacy, just like all the progressive tenses

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