Easy English Grammar

Past Simple and Past Continuous: An Easy Way to Look at It

Past simple and past continuous - an easy way to look at it

Let’s take a good look at how the continuous tenses work.

  • This lesson is about the past simple and past continuous.
  • Click here for the perfect simple and continuous.
  • Click here for the present simple and present continuous.

One way of looking at the continuous and the simple in the past is like this:

Past simple and past continuous lamp and soldier

The Simple Toy Soldier likes action. He goes somewhere and gets things done.

We’ll see him in action in a minute, but first, let’s look at time:

Timeline

The red line represents time, moving from the past (on the left) towards now (on the right).

As I’ve written about before, when we talk about the past, we’re always telling a story.

When we tell a story, the most important parts are the “main” actions.

Let’s look at an example:

Last week we ate dinner with the Kumars. Ranjit told a great story about a traffic cone.

Here’s the Simple Toy Soldier dealing with the main actions in the past:

Past simple example
Wondering about the traffic cone? Here’s the link.

These are the main parts of our story, so we use the Simple Toy Soldier. He loves this stuff.

But a good story needs more atmosphere. We need to see what’s going on in the background.

This is when the Big Continuous Lamp steps in:

Past simple and past continuous example

Last week we ate dinner with the Kumars. Ranjit told a great story about a traffic cone. It was raining.

The Big Continuous Lamp creates the background feeling to the main actions in the story.

The Simple Toy Soldier and the Big Continuous Lamp work as a storytelling team.


Let’s practise this. Can you tell a story by answering this question?

Why was Bernard wearing two different-coloured socks yesterday?

Looking forward to reading your answer! See you next week when we deal with the continuous and simple in the perfect tenses.

7 thoughts on “Past Simple and Past Continuous: An Easy Way to Look at It

  1. It was early morning yesterday. Bernard was overslept. He was in a hurry. He looked on his socks only at his office. It was the terrible situation! But he was wearing two different coloured socks!

    1. Haha! That story’s fantastic. You’re using the past continuous perfectly as well — good work!

      Quick notes: “Bernard overslept” / “He only looked at his sock at the office”

  2. There was a young broker from Stocks
    Who was seen wearing mismatched socks
    Speculation aside —
    He was not colour-blind
    ‘Twas a girl’s prank called April, his first.

    Bother! forgot the auxiliary for Anita, shame on me, that’s one of Russian blind spot.

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