Britlish

Past Continuous - GA5

Aspect and Tenses Course Grammar

Grammar

These Activities focus on the grammar of English. English grammar compared to other grammars is quite simple, but in its simplicity lies its complexity. The Activities here cover all aspects of English grammar from the aspects and tenses to sentence structures. English grammar covers the structure of words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and entire texts. There are eight parts of speech in English: nouns, determiners, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. The largest of these parts of speech are the nouns which, unlike most European languages, do not have grammatical gender. English grammar has largely done away with the inflectional case system of other European languages and bases its grammar on analytic constructions. The Activities in this category will go some way to helping you get a better understanding of English grammar.    

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I explained about the Key Verbs, be, do, and have and their inflected tenses in Grammar Activation Pack 1. I told you about the past tense, simple aspect in Grammar Activation Pack 3. I also explained the present tense, continuous aspect in Grammar Activation Pack 4. In this Grammar Activation Pack, I am going to tell you how the second of the key verbs, be, is used for the continuous aspect, past tense. This British English grammar is essential for all students of English and the many exercises in the pack will help you master it quickly and enjoyably.

Aspect and Tenses Course

Past Continuous

Grammar Activation Pack 5

Key Verbs, Aspects, and Tenses

I explained about the Key Verbs, be, do, and have and their inflected tenses in Grammar Activation Pack 1.

I told you about the past tense, simple aspect in Grammar Activation Pack 3.

I also explained the present tense, continuous aspect in Grammar Activation Pack 4.

In this Grammar Activation Pack, I am going to tell you how the second of the key verbs, be, is used for the continuous aspect, past tense.

Past Tense Be

The past tense is shown by the two inflected past forms of the verb be, was, and were, and these are used for different subjects.

was is used with:

First person singular – I was.

The gender specific, third person, singular subject pronouns – He was, and She was.

The gender neutral, third person, singular subject pronoun – It was.

were is used with:

First person plural – We were.

Second person singular and plural – You were.

Third person plural – They were.

Copular Be

The auxiliary form of the verb be in combination with the ing form of a non-finite verb marks the continuous aspect.

Be is often used without an ing form.

In these cases be does not mark the continuous aspect and instead acts as the copular verb be.

The copular be really means equal to (=).

I was happy means I = happy in the past.

We were happy means We = happy in the past.

You were happy means You = happy in the past.

They were happy means They = happy in the past.

He was happy means He = happy in the past.

She was happy means She = happy in the past.

It was happy means It = happy in the past.

Other Copular Verbs

Some grammarians say that there are other copular verbs besides be.

They claim that the verbs, appear, seem, look, sound, smell, taste, feel, become and get are also copular.

I disagree and accept only be as copular.

The other verbs use the hidden do and so form sentences in the simple aspect.

They did appear to be simple, didn’t they?

I did get the feeling that they were not copular.

It did look to me like they were not copular.

Other grammarians refer to these as pseudo-copulars.

Finite or Non-Finite Verbs

A finite verb has a subject and can function as the root of an independent clause.

An independent clause is basically a full sentence and expresses a single thought.

The finite past tense forms of be are was, and were.

Non-finite verbs are the infinitives, the participles, and the gerunds.

The non-finite forms of be are be, being, and been.

I’ll look in detail at finite and non-finite verbs in later Grammar Activation Packs.

Continuous Aspect

The continuous aspect is marked by the auxiliary verb be plus an ing form of a non-finite verb.

There are 5 finite inflected forms of the verb be:

am, is, are, and was, were.

You already know that the inflected forms of be, am, is, and are, mark the present tense and that the inflected forms of be, was, and were, mark the past tense.

In this Grammar Activation Pack, I will be looking at the past tense, continuous aspect.

Continuous Aspect

An ing with no verb to be is a non-finite gerund.

A verb to be without ing is a copular be, not the continuous aspect.

Only if one of the five inflected forms of be comes before an ing do we have the continuous aspect:

I was teaching.

We were learning.

You were learning.

They were learning.

He was learning.

She was learning.

It was learning.

Past Continuous Closed Questions

Let’s take a look at the previous statements turned into past continuous closed questions.

Was I teaching?

Were we learning?

Were you learning?

Were they learning?

Was he learning?

Was she learning?

Was it learning?

The continuous aspect is always verb to be plus ing.

Closed questions will only get you a yes or no answer. To get more information, you need open or 5WH questions.

5WH Questions

Let’s take a look at some examples of past tense, continuous aspect questions using the 5WH question words.

Why was I teaching?

When were we learning?

Where were you learning?

How were they learning?

What was he learning?

Why was she learning?

How was it learning?

These open or 5WH questions get you more than a yes or no response.

The continuous aspect is always verb to be plus ing.

5WH Subject Questions

Past tense, continuous aspect subject questions replace the subject of the sentence with the question word who or, if the subject is not a person, what.

Who was teaching?

Richard was teaching.

What was learning?

The machine was learning.

Who were learning?

My students were learning.

What were learning?

The machines were learning.

The question words, who or what, give us the subject of the sentence.

The continuous aspect is always verb to be plus ing.

Past Continuous Negative

Let’s take a look at some examples of past tense, continuous aspect, negative sentences.

I was not teaching.

We were not learning.

You were not learning.

They were not learning.

He was not learning.

She was not learning.

It was not learning.

Negative sentences are very easy to form as you just have to put a not after the auxiliary be.

The continuous aspect is always verb to be plus ing.

Negative Contractions

When we speak, we usually use contractions.

When written, a contraction uses an apostrophe to show that some letters are missing.

I wasn’t teaching.

We weren’t learning.

You weren’t learning.

They weren’t learning.

He wasn’t learning.

She wasn’t learning.

It wasn’t learning.

The apostrophe in n’t marks the missing letter O.

The continuous aspect is always verb to be plus ing.

Continuous Aspect Uses

The continuous aspect means, as its name suggests, that an action continues at a particular time.

The time is marked by an inflected form of be which indicates the tense of the verb. For the continuous aspect, the verb be always comes before an ing form of a non-finite verb.

I was teaching.

You were learning.

He was learning.

The be plus ing tells us that this is the continuous aspect, the aspect that shows a continuous action.

The tense of be is past and is shown by one of the two past tense inflected forms of be; was and were.

Therefore, this action was continuing in the past and we call this the past continuous.

Past vs Present Continuous

Captain Britlish was doing Kung Fu yesterday morning.
(past continuous – unfinished action in past)

He started Kung Fu at 09:00 and at 10:00 he finished.
(past simple with hidden do – two finished actions in past)

Captain Britlish is getting better at Kung Fu.
(present continuous – an action in progress around now)

Past Continuous vs Past Simple

Captain Britlish was doing Kung Fu when he twisted his knee.
(past continuous – past simple with hidden do [did twist])

During a continuous action in the past, a sudden single action happened.

We often use the simple aspect with the continuous aspect to show that something did happen while something else was happening.

Past Continuous vs Past Simple

Captain Britlish twisted his knee while he was doing Kung Fu.
(past simple with hidden do [did twist] - past continuous)

Notice that we can mention the thing that suddenly happened [did suddenly happen] before the thing that was happening at the time.

This does not change the fact that the continuous thing was already in progress and was unfinished when the sudden thing happened.

Past Continuous vs Past Simple

Captain Britlish twisted his knee while he was doing Kung Fu.
(past simple with hidden do [did twist] - past continuous)

While the simple aspect, past tense, can be used to say that something did happen while something else was happening, we use the simple aspect on its own to say that one thing happened after the other.

Captain Britlish warmed up, did some Kung Fu, then twisted his knee.

If you change the order of simple aspect events, the time they happened also changes.

Grammar Activator

The best way to activate what you have just learnt is to do some exercises where I can ask you some questions and tell you whether you are right or wrong.

You can do this in the Grammar Activator which is available on the next page.

Just click the Start Quiz button to begin.

You will be asked some random questions from a bank of questions.

Each time you complete the Grammar Activator you can refresh your browser and a new set of questions will be created for you.

Aspect and Tenses

A comprehensive English course covering the tenses and aspects of English in an easy-to-understand format with lots of self-test exercises to check your understanding. You will learn all you need to know about the 3 Key Verbs of English: Be, Do, Have. This course will let you see just how simple English grammar is. We will explore the present simple, the past simple, the present continuous, the post continuous, the present perfect and the present perfect past and present, along with present perfect time markers, the present perfect continuous, the past perfect and the past perfect continuous.

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Aspects and Tenses - GA1

Welcome to the first in my series of Grammar Activation Packs at Britlish.com. Together, the Grammar Activation Packs combine to provide you with a clear overview of English grammar in use. When I teach grammar to my students, I first teach them what I call the three keys to English grammar. The three keys are the three verbs, do, be, and have. Understand these three verbs and you will see just how easy English grammar really is. I have created some fun exercises to help you activate what you have learnt. This British English grammar is essential for all students of English and the many exercises in the pack will help you master it quickly and enjoyably.

Categories: Grammar | English in Use


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Future 1 - GA12

In the previous Grammar Activation Packs I have introduced you to the present and the past tenses, along with the simple, continuous, and perfect aspects. I also mentioned that English has only the two tenses, present and past. So where does this leave us when we want to talk about the future? Don’t worry, there are several ways that we can talk about the future, including using the present tense, which is what I am going to explain in this lesson. There are two aspects of the present tense that we can use to talk about the future. We can use the simple aspect which uses the auxiliary verb do. We can also use the continuous aspect, which uses the auxiliary verb be, and the ing form of a non-finite verb.    

Categories: Grammar | Phrasal Verbs


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Future 2 - GA13

In the previous Grammar Activation Packs I have introduced you to the present and the past tenses, along with the simple, continuous, and perfect aspects. I also mentioned that English has only the two tenses, present and past. This lesson looks at Will or Shall for Future, Asking for Decisions, Promises and Threats, Decisions Made at the Moment, Predicting, Conditionals, Giving Orders or Instructions, Negative Will for Refusals, Negative Shall for Refusals, things Not Rooted in Present, and Future Time Indicators. This British English grammar is essential for all students of English and the many exercises in the pack will help you master it quickly and enjoyably.    

Categories: Grammar


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