The Past Continuous
We use the past continuous to talk about an action which was happening at an exact time in the past.
I was sleeping at 6 o’clock this morning.
The construction is the same as the present continuous except the verb to be is in the past. The present continous refers to a specific moment in the present -now- while the past continuous refers to a specific moment in the past.
They were working at 11 o’clock this morning.
Because it is a continuous tense, there is the idea that the action is long and started before the time started and will continue.
Look at the construction:
to be (past)
-ing form of verb
at 1 o’clock this afternoon.
at 3 o’clock this morning.
It is not always necessary to specify the time if you use the past simple to specify the moment in the past.
I was working when she called.
I was sleeping when she went out to work.
Differences between past continuous and past simple
The past continuous is used for a specific moment in the past:
I was having breakfast at 7 o’clock this morning.
The past simple is used for a period in the past:
I had breakfast this morning.
I was having a shower when the phone rang.
I had a shower last night.
Note that when we talk about an action which lasted a long time in the past we can use either the past simple or the past continuous.
I was working in Massachussetts in 1990.
I worked in Massachussetts in 1990.
She was living here last summer.
She lived here last summer.