Which of the following is a usage of the past continuous tense?

  1. Action in progress at a specific time in the past. *(Correct)
  2. A completed past action
  3. An action that was completed before a past time.
  4. An action that began in the past and continues up until the present time.

I got this question wrong and selected 4. Can someone explain why the correct answer is 1? To me, it doesn't seem right since we can write non-specific sentences like "he was cooking".

Thank you!

  • Hi! Please let me know if my answer satisfies you. If it does not, please send me some feedback, and I would be happy to clarify anything or edit my response.
    – user392938
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 6:29

1 Answer 1


An example of the usage in (1) is:

He was still playing videogames after midnight last night.

The action (playing videogames) was in progress (still playing) at a specific point in the past (after midnight last night).

You can't just say "he was playing videogames," you need to have a specific time. Otherwise, you would use the simple past ("he played videogames").

(4) describes the present perfect and present perfect continuous. For example:

He has watched 100 hours of TV this week.

The action (watching TV) started in the past (at the beginning of the week) and is continuing into the present (this week is still occurring).

He has been watching TV for a few hours; he should take a break. [continuous]

The action (watching TV) started in the past (a few hours ago) and is continuing into the present (implicit).

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