In this sentence, should I use past continuous form of the verb or past simple or it in the gap?

Last night, I was sleeping in my bed, when I ------- (hear) a terrible noise. I ------ (get up) immediately and ------- (run) outside.

4 Answers 4


There's nothing continuous/progressive about those actions, so the simple past tense is appropriate:

Last night, I was sleeping in my bed when I heard a terrible noise. I got up immediately and ran outside.

  • 1
    To add to that, with the verb 'hear' you don't normally use the progressive tense as it is a stative verb.Check this out perfect-english-grammar.com/stative-verbs.html
    – Manjima
    Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 23:48
  • (Deleted some comments unrelated to the question.)
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 19:24

I don't know the technical name for this, but whenever in the past, the action is interrupted by something so you couldn't complete, then you should use the past continuous, like:

I was sleeping - and something woke me up. We were smiling - now we are not.

The actions implied in the verbs were interrupted. The past simple, works when you just DID what the action implied.

You woke up. You heard the noise. You got up at once.

My cents...

  • The use of the past continuous need not imply interruption. It merely refers to something that happened for a period in the past - but it could still be happening, e.g. "I was smiling then, and I still am now". Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 0:04
  • Certainly. Is just that as you see the first part of the phrase "I was smiling then" means a hanging "pause" and in your second part, you jump to another space of time to clarify you are STILL doing it. Maybe in english is not as I thought. In spanish there's a preterit (past) and imperfect preterit (past imperfect) where the example to understand it is the action interrupted (could continue). The only way to achieve that effect in english (that conjugation is nonexistent in english) is by using the compound verbal form "subject+auxverb+gerundio".
    – Billeeb
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 12:53
  • By the way, I realized how funny is that you explain it as continuous and we explain it as interrupted! Maybe that's why our way of life differ... hahaha. Good to learn something new! Thanks!
    – Billeeb
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 12:54

There was no continuous process, you neither were hearing it, nor you were getting up and neither you were running outside, all you did is, just you heard it, you got up and you ran outside. :)

An example for sentence where you were doing something::

Last night when I was sleeping, I was dreaming about ....


Last night, I was sleeping in my bed, when I heard a terrible noise. I got up immediately and ran outside.

More sentence examples :

  1. I was watching TV when I heard a knock on my door.

  2. She was reading a book when the telephone rang.


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