Well, when we were driving home last night, we saw a strange object in the sky.
This lesson will help you to understand the difference between Past Continuous and Past Simple. Both the past simple and the past continuous refer to completed actions in the past.
2. Past Continuous or Past Simple?
A reporter is interviewing Mike and Harriet
|Mike and Harriet, tell me what you saw.
|Well, when we were driving home last night, we saw a strange object in the sky.
|As we were coming down the hill into town, it just suddenly appeared in front of us. We stopped the car and got out.
|It was a very clear night. The stars were twinkling.
|It was a spaceship. It seemed quite big. It had some strange writing on the side. And a light was flashing on the top.
|As we were watching it, it suddenly flew away and disappeared.
Now let’s see the difference between Past Continuous and Past Simple
|We use the Past Continuous for an action that we were in the middle of
We use the Past Continuous for an action happening at a specific time.
We do not normally use the Past Continuous for state verbs.
|We use the Past Simple for a complete action in the past.
We use the Past Simple for an action happened in the past, the specific time is not important.
We also use the Past Simple for state verbs.
3. It happened as I was driving
We often use the Past Continuous and Past Simple together when on (shorter) action comes in the middle of another (longer) one.
- As we were driving down the hill, a strange object appeared in the sky.
- While Laura was sitting in the garden, it suddenly began to rain.
- You drove right past me when I was waiting for the bus.
The appearance of the strange object comes in the middle of the longer action, the drive down the hill.
- Longer action: W e w e r e d r i v i n g d o w n t h e h i l l
- Shorter action: An object appeared
In the three sentences above, the Past Continuous comes after as, while, and when. (As we were driving…). We can also use when before the Past Simple.
- We were driving down the hill when a strange object appeared in the sky.
- David was making lunch when the phone rang.
But we also use two Past Simple verbs for one action after another.
- When we saw the spaceship, we stopped the car. (We saw it and then we stopped).
We also use two Past Continuous verbs for two actions happening at the same long time in the past.
- While I was cooking, my husband was watching TV.
- Harriet was driving home yesterday, while a spaceship was flying along his car.