English tenses · ESL grammar · Grammar · tenses · Verb

We were drinking coffee when the phone rang: Past Progressive – How and When to Use it

past progressive

How to make the Past Progressive

To make the past progressive you use “was” or “were” + a verb with –ing.


was drinking

were playing

past continuous_progressive 

When to use:

1 Past progressive is used to tell at what time something happened.


At 9 o’clock Mary was having breakfast.

Albrecht was playing badminton between 10 and 11 yesterday morning.

At 13.30, Lisa and Melissa were checking in the new guests.

2 Instead of saying the exact time, you can also describe a situation in which something happened.


While the football was on TV, Natasha was making a salad.

When Kazuki entered the office, his employees were surfing the internet.

3 Lastly, you can use the past progressive to express that something took some time, and during that time something else happened.

In that case, you use past progressive for the thing that took more time, and you use past simple for the thing that was short and that happened in the middle.


We were sitting at the dinner table, when a ball flew through the window.

Aya was brushing her teeth, when her phone rang.

Note: in some verbs you need to change the spelling slightly:

For instance in “making” you don’t need the “e” of “make.”

“Getting” is written with two “t”s.


The situation is this: The McDonalds were at home when suddenly the fire alarm went off.

You’re going to make sentences about what each member of the household was doing at this precise moment.

Example: Ricky / have / a bath – Ricky was having a bath.

1.  Mrs McDonald / write / an email
2.  Mr McDonald / saw / a curtain rail
3.  Ellen / watch / her favourite series
4.  Carol-Ann / practise / a dance
5.  Ryan / wash / his karate uniform
6.  Fancy Socks / chase / a mouse
7.  Harley and Buddy / look / out the window
8.  Charlie / sing / in her cage

For the answers: scroll down to the bottom of this page.












1. Mrs McDonald was writing an email.

2. Mr McDonald was sawing a curtain rail.

3. Ellen was watching her favourite series.

4. Carol-Ann was practising a dance. (Practicing is okay too, in American English).

5. Ryan was washing his karate uniform.

6. Fancy Socks was chasing a mouse.

7. Harley and Buddy were looking out the window.

8. Charlie was singing in her cage.

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