{\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252 {\fonttbl\f0\fnil\fcharset0 ArialMT;} {\colortbl;\red255\green255\blue255;\red51\green51\blue51;\red255\green255\blue255;} \deftab720 \pard\pardeftab720\partightenfactor0 \f0\fs26 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0 \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 }
Connect
To Top

The Past Progressive of English Verbs

English verbs that are conjugated express a combination of tense, aspect, voice, and mood. Tense is the grammaticalized expression of time and roughly corresponds to actual time. Aspect is the grammaticalized expression of temporal structure and corresponds to duration. Mood is the expression of modality, or the expression of possibility, necessity, and contingency. Voice is the expression of relationships between predicate and nominal functions such as subject and object. The past progressive typically refers to verbs in the past tense, progressive aspect, indicative mood, and active voice.

The past progressive can be defined as a verb form that expresses an incomplete or ongoing action or state that began, continued, and ended in the past but over a longer period of time than the completed actions expressed by the simple past. For example, the sentence The baby was crying contains the verb phrase was crying, which is an example of the past progressive. The use of the past progressive in this example indicates both that the baby began crying in the past and continued to cry over a period of time before stopping.

Formation of the Past Progressive

The past progressive, like the majority of verb forms in English, is periphrastic. Periphrasis means that a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Verbs in the past progressive are therefore formed by a past tense form of the verb be followed by a present participle. The verb phrase patterns for the past progressive are as follows:

  • first person singular – was + present participle – I was making a pot roast.
  • second person singular – were + present participle – Were you burning the garbage?
  • third person singular – was + present participle – The man was wearing a top hat.
  • first person plural – were + present participle – We were raising chickens.
  • second person plural – was + present participle – You were publishing a newsletter.
  • third person plural – were + present participle – They were supplying the glitter.

Notice that, similar to the present tense forms in the present progressive, all past tense forms of the verb be are irregular.

Use of the Past Progressive

Because the past progressive expresses ongoing or incomplete actions or states in the past, the verb form most often occurs in sentences that express the following situations:

  • Past actions or states that progressed in time in the past
  • Past actions or states that ended from an interruption including specific times
  • Past actions or states that occurred simultaneously
  • Describing the atmosphere of the past
  • Past actions or states that are repetitive and irritating

For example:

  • My daughter was whining all morning.
  • She was showering when the doorbell rang.
  • The soup was boiling while the bread was baking.
  • The storm clouds were rolling in as I drove down the highway.
  • My sister was always stealing my clothes.

The following visual illustrates the uses of the progressive aspects of English verbs:

Progressive of English Verbs

 

The past progressive expresses ongoing actions or states in the past.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

More in English Verbs

  • English Auxiliary Verbs

    Auxiliary verbs are a subcategory of English verbs that provide additional semantic or syntactic information about the main verb in the...

    Heather JohnsonMarch 1, 2016
  • Ambitransitive English Verbs

    Verbs are traditionally defined as “words that describe actions or states of being.” Main or principal English verbs may be either...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 25, 2016
  • Attributive Ditransitive English Verbs

    Traditional notional grammars define verbs as “action or state of being words.” Transitive verbs in English grammar are main verbs that...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 23, 2016
  • Ditransitive English Verbs

    Verbs have traditionally been defined as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 18, 2016
  • Monotransitive English Verbs

    Notional grammars describe verbs as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories in...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 16, 2016
  • Transitive English Verbs

    Verbs have traditionally been defined as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 11, 2016
  • Copular English Verbs

    Traditional grammars define verbs as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories in...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 9, 2016
  • Intransitive English Verbs

    Notional grammars define verbs as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories in...

    Heather JohnsonFebruary 7, 2016
  • Grammatical Forms of English Verb Phrases

    A verb phrase is a phrase in which a verb functions as the head of the phrase plus any auxiliaries (modals,...

    Heather JohnsonApril 29, 2014

Pin It on Pinterest