Differences between Past Simple and Past Continuous

The past tense is the one that refers to events that have already occurred and which are referred to in the present in different ways. This can mention an event that occurred at a specific and determined time or it can refer to an event that was happening during a certain time.

That said, that is what the past simple and past continuous tenses refer to in the English language. Therefore, in this article we will present the differences between these verb tenses, supporting us with examples that serve for a better understanding of their uses and applications.

Simple Past

The verb tense -past simple- in the English language refers to a specific action that began and ended in the past, that is, it describes a past action that has already been completed. The simple past is also used to talk about habitual actions. Also, the simple past is used if the adverb “ago” appears in the sentence, which means “does” depending on time.

In addition to the above, the -simple past- is also used to list consecutive actions. Finally, it is important to point out that, in the English language, the verb tense -past simple- can be combined with the -past continuous-.

Here are some examples of the simple past tense:

  • I worked last Saturday, describes a past action already completed.
  • She visited her parents every day (she visited her parents every day), describes habitual actions of the past.
  • She arrived ten minutes ago (She arrived ten minutes ago), with the adverb -ago-.
  • He got home and went to bed, list consecutive actions.

Past Continuous

In the English language, the verb tense -past continuous- (past continuous) expresses the duration of a past action and does not indicate whether it is finished. This means that it indicates that an action was taking place at a certain moment in the past to which it refers, but it does not say whether the action has already finished or is still going on. Likewise, the -past continuous- is used to refer to simultaneous actions that occurred in the past.

On the other hand, it is also used to describe the environment in the past and can also be used in conjunction with the word -while- which means “for a while” or “while”. Also, the past continuous can appear in sentences combined with -past simple-.

Here are some examples.

  • I was studying and my brother was watching TV (I was studying and my brother was watching TV), simultaneous actions that occurred in the past.
  • It was raining and the people were walking quickly, describes the environment in the past.
  • While I was having a shower, the phone rang (While I was showering, the phone rang), with the word -while-.
  • The Prime Minister died while he was sitting at his desk, in combination with the past simple where the action (he was sitting) is in the past continuous.

Considering the quoted expressions, it can be said that the main differences between past simple and past continuous are:

  • The -past simple- is used to refer to an action that occurred in the past and has already finished, while the -past continuous- is used to refer to situations that were occurring in the past but does not indicate whether it has finished.
  • The -past simple- emphasizes that the action ended in the past while the -past continuous- emphasizes the action that was happening and not its culmination.

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