The past progressive tense is used to talk about a past action that took place over a period of time. The past progressive has many uses. Here's the basic formula:
was/were + present participle (verb + -ing)
"The bells were ringing."
"The music was playing."
"Were you going to call me back?"
"Was the CEO giving a speech?"
Point in Time
It is very common to use the past progressive tense with a specific point in time in the past. This is generally to ask a question or in response to a question like, "What were you/they doing ____________ ?"
"Were you jogging in the park this morning? I thought I saw you."
"Was your mom up all night baking these cakes?"
"Were you using a hammer late last night? It was loud."
"At 8 am, I was eating breakfast." (What were you doing at 8 am?)
"Last night, I was eating dinner with my family." (What were you doing last night?)
"They were working on their presentation." (What were they doing in the meeting room?)
With the Past Simple
You can use the past progressive tense with the past simple tense to talk about an action that was happening when it was interrupted by another action. To use this form, you will need to insert when to connect the two clauses.
"I was sleeping when the alarm sounded."
"We were walking into the building when the rain started."
"Victor and Victoria were working on another album together when they got divorced."
The two clauses can be interchanged.
"When the alarm sounded, I was sleeping."
"When the rain started, we were walking into the building."
"When Victor and Victoria got divorced, they were working on another album together."
This form is also great for telling stories.
"I was walking along a quiet path this morning when the birds started to sing and the sun began to shine…"
"I was walking across a bridge when I tripped over a loose nail and fell down…"
Simultaneous Past Actions
The past progressive tense can be used to talk about past continuous actions that happened at the same time. To use this form, you will need to insert while or as.
"Dad was working on his car while mom was cooking dinner."
"At the conference, Ted was busy talking to Jefferson from Intel while I was busy talking to Carlos from Microsoft."
"Cindy was styling my hair while Melissa was doing my nails."
"Mom was preparing my lunch as I was eating breakfast."
"As the bell was ringing, I was skipping through the meadow singing."
Indicating a Change of Plans
To indicate a change of plans, use but to demonstrate contrasting clauses.
"I was going to call you last night, but I decided to call you this morning instead."
"Kahlil and Tyce were going to attend the concert last night, but it rained."
To make a polite request using the past progressive, we use the verb wonder.
… was/were wondering if…
"I was wondering if you would join me for lunch."
"Mr. Clark was wondering if you were free for dinner this evening."
"I was wondering if you could send me that report by the end of the day."
Most verbs can be used in the progressive form, but there are many that are rarely or never used in this form. Here's a list of some common non-continuous verbs.
*In this text, the words progressive and continuous have the same meaning and are used interchangeable.