The past continuous, often called the past progressive, is formed with the words was or were (past forms of the verb to be) followed by the present participle (the verb in the -ing form).

Form: was/were + present participle

Read on for some tips on when to use this common tense, along with some helpful examples.

Tips for Using the Past Continuous

1. An Interrupted Action in the Past

In English, we use the past continuous to express that a longer action in the past was interrupted by another action. The past continuous expresses the longer action; the interrupting action is often expressed using the past simple.

The action doesn’t have to be an actual interruption; it can be an interruption in time.

“I was taking a shower when she called me.”

In this example, the longer action is taking a shower. The person started taking a shower first and was in the shower when the woman called. The call interrupted her shower (at least in regards to time). We show that the shower started first by using the past continuous.

You could also change the order of the actions in the sentence and it would still have the same meaning.

“She called me when I was taking a shower.”

2. An Action in Progress at a Specific Time in the Past

We can also express that an action was in progress at a specific time in the past.

“At 4:00 pm yesterday Kate was still driving.

In this example, Kate started driving some time before 4:00 pm, and at 4:00 pm she was driving.

If we use the past simple tense, then this might mean that at 4:00 pm Kate got in her car and started driving.

“At 4:00 pm yesterday, Kate drove.

So, if you want to be clear that an action was already taking place, use the past continuous in this kind of situation.

3. Parallel Actions

We can also talk about two actions happening at the same time in the past.

“When she was cooking, her son was playing a video game.”

This means that at a certain time in the past, she was cooking and her son was playing a video game – at the same time. Because both verbs are expressed in the past continuous, we know they were happening simultaneously.

If we use the past tense, then the time relationship between the two actions is not as clear.

“She cooked when her son was playing a video game.”

This sentence could mean that she started cooking while her son was playing a video game.

4. Atmosphere

English speakers also use the past continuous when they are describing a scene, the atmosphere, or what was happening in the background of a particular event.

For example, let’s imagine a man walks into his office and describes what he saw.

“Mike and Amy were working on their computers, Christine was yelling at somebody on the phone, and Victor was making copies.”

Were working, was yelling, and was making are the past continuous tense. All of these events started taking place before the man walks into the office; they are in progress when he walks in. We know this because they are expressed in the past continuous.

Hopefully these tips will help you better describe the past and make you sound more fluent.

Adjectives are one of the most important parts of any language. Without them, you couldn’t describe the smell of a flower, how someone makes you feel, or how food tastes. They add texture and life to a language.

There are tens of thousands of adjectives (and adverbs) in English, and while you don’t have to learn all of them, it’s essential that you learn at least a few dozen – if not a few hundred – so you can accurately and fully express yourself. But how do you do this? Here are three simple steps to learn English adjectives.

3 Simple Steps to Learn English Adjectives

1. One Theme at a Time

One of the best ways to learn vocabulary in general is to learn words based on a common theme. For example, one day you can focus on food; the next you can study personality; the next, sounds.

There are websites and books that organize vocabulary around themes. Check out The Learn English Network and to see words grouped around a number of categories.

But don’t just read lists of words; make lists or spider diagrams of adjectives around themes relevant to you. Writing words down helps you remember them better.

In addition, write sentences using the adjectives you learn and try to use them in conversation as much as possible. Focus on one or two themes per week – you’ll be able to learn English adjectives better if you’re learning fewer of them and using them as much as possible.

2. Learn Opposites

Another way you can organize your learning is to learn adjective opposites. This method is especially helpful for beginners. You can find lists of opposite adjectives online; for example, go to My English Pages for a list of opposites and exercises.

A thesaurus is also a great resource; a thesaurus provides synonyms (and antonyms) for words rather than definitions. After you find (or make) a list of adjectives around a certain theme, go to and add more synonyms and antonyms to your list.

3. Don’t Forget Adjective Order

It’s also important to study the grammar related to adjectives, which means you must learn how to properly order adjectives in a sentence. Unfortunately, we can’t just list adjectives in any order – there are rules for which come first, second, third, and so on.

Native speakers are often unaware that there are rules governing adjective order; they simply learn it from experience. English learners, however, must study the rules.

So what are these rules? You can find thorough explanations and exercises in textbooks and online but here are the general guidelines.

First, we use adjectives of general opinion – words like good, bad, and beautiful.

Next, come adjectives that express a specific opinion; in other words, adjectives that describe particular kinds of things like food, furniture, and people. For example, delicious could describe a food, and comfortable could describe furniture.

Next up are adjectives describing size, then shape, and so on. It’s a bit confusing. The more you read, listen to, and study English, the more natural adjective order will become for you.

The Wide World of Adjectives

There are thousands of adjectives in English, so learning them takes time. Simplify your learning by studying adjectives by theme and studying opposites.

Be sure to study all the categories of adjectives: these include not only descriptive adjectives like big, lovely, etc., but also possessive adjectives such as my and theirs, comparative adjectives such as more, larger, heavier, and so forth.

The present perfect tense is one of the most important grammar tenses in English. We use it very often and in several different situations. If you have a grasp of the present perfect, you can express time more precisely.

Form: have/has + past participle

Unfortunately, it can be hard to learn. Some languages don’t have a similar tense or don’t use it in the same way. And when you’re not able to compare grammar to your own language, it makes it that much harder to learn.

But there is good news: because the present perfect is such a common and important tense, once you learn it, your fluency increases. You are able to understand and express time more accurately.

Rules for Using the Present Perfect

1. Unspecified Time Before Now

One of the most common uses is to express an unspecified time before now. This time may be unknown or unimportant. You can’t use the present perfect to express a specific time in the past.

Yesterday I have been there.” (incorrect)

“She has worked here one year ago.” (incorrect)

Time expressions such as ago, yesterday, last year, that day, and so forth don’t work with the present perfect because they indicate an exact time in the past.

We can use the present perfect with time expressions such as already, yet, ever, never, many times, and so on, as these indicate that things happened (or didn’t happen) at a non-specific time in the past.

2. Started in the Past and Continues

Another common use is to express an action that began in the past but still continues now.

“I have worked at this company for two years.”

“He has known her since July.”

In the first example, the person started working at the company two years ago and is still working there. In the second sentence, he met her in July, and it’s several months later and he still knows her.

With this use of the present perfect, we often use the time expressions for and since to help us explain the amount of time that something has or hasn’t been happening.

For is used with a period of time such as 11 months, 2 hours, one day, etc.

“We have known each other for 18 years.”

Since is followed by a specific point of time.

“He has played the guitar since he was five.”

“We have owned the house since September.”

In other words, he started playing the guitar when he was five years old and still plays it, and they bought the house in September and still own it now.

Study these rules and you’ll become a present perfect master before you know it!

The past simple is a very common tense in English. There are several tenses that describe the past in English, such as the past simple, the past continuous, and the past perfect. As the name implies, the it is the simplest of these.

For example: He studied English last night.

The verb in this sentence, study, is in the past simple tense.

Using the Past Simple

1. Describe a Finished Action

Use it to describe a finished action in the past that happened once or more than once. The key here is that the action is finished. It doesn’t continue now.

For example: “I called him at 6:00.”

Called is the past tense form of the word call. The sentence implies that it’s after 6:00 – maybe it’s the same day, maybe it’s not – and the action is finished. You’re not on the phone with him anymore.

2. Describe an Action in the Past

Use it to describe an action in the past interrupting another past action. We use the past simple when we are referring to an action that took place in the middle of another action in the past.

For example: “I dropped the spoon while I was cooking.”

This means that the person started cooking first, then while she was cooking she dropped the spoon. The implication is that these two actions happened at the same time, but she dropped the spoon after she started cooking. The phrase was cooking is in the past continuous tense.

3. Describe Multiple Actions in the Past

Use it for multiple actions in the past happening one after another. The past simple is also used to describe a series of finished actions that happened in the past.

For example: “He put on his coat, opened the door, and went outside.”

These actions happened one after another. First, he put on his coat, then he opened the door, then he went outside. He didn’t do them at the same time.

4. Look for Signal Words

Signal words are words like first, therefore, or while; they are used to connect ideas and show a logical relationship between ideas. They show time and order, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and more.

In relation to the past simple, signal words can signal to the listener or reader if an action happened in the past and whether or not it’s finished.

For example: “They met four months ago.”

The word ago connotes that the action is finished. They met – this is a one-time action – and now, presumably, they know each other. Another common signal word is last.

For example: “She bought the car last Friday.”

This indicates that the action happened in the past, on the most recent Friday, and is finished.

5. Learn Irregular Verbs

This is a big one. In English there are regular verbs and irregular verbs. With regular verbs, you add -ed to the end of the base form of the verb. So, the past simple form of clean is cleaned.

Irregular verbs don’t have a regular past simple form; they have many different forms and they simply have to be memorized. For example, the past of eat is ate; the past of buy is bought; drink becomes drank; and so on.

It’s very important to learn irregular verbs. You can find lists, examples, and exercises online.

Grammar is the basis of every language. It’s the most important thing you will learn at the beginning of your studies, and it’s something you should never forget. But just because you are learning grammar, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!

The present continuous verb tense (or present progressive) can be fun to practice. The most important point to remember is that the present continuous describes an activity that is happening now.

Games to Practice Present Continuous

1. Present Continuous – I Spy

This game requires no materials. You can play with two people or twenty, and you can play almost anywhere. Normally, this game is played by saying:

“I spy something that is _____.”

You give clues and everyone has to look around to try to guess the object.

However, Present Continuous I Spy is played by giving clues about what a mysterious person is doing or wearing. You give clues and everyone has to look around to try to guess the person being described.

Here is an example of what you can say:

  • The person is wearing a pink shirt.
  • The person is standing next to a desk.
  • The person is laughing.
  • The person is using a pen.

2. Create a Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is an activity where you make a list of objects you must find. It’s best to make the list with a friend or a group of people, and think of a prize for the winner. For example, the person with the most points could get a free ice cream or a donut.

First, make the list. Make a list of actions you want to find when you go outside. Here are some ideas.

  • A person is laughing.
  • A baby is crying.
  • A dog is barking.
  • A lizard is running.
  • A clock is chiming.
  • A horn is honking.
  • A woman is wearing jewelry.

Then, go outside. Take the list with you and look for the actions on your list. When you find a person or animal doing the action, announce it to the other players to get a point.

This simple activity can help make boring tasks more fun. Even a routine trip to the supermarket can become loads of fun with a scavenger hunt.

3. Be Your Own Narrator

A narrator is a person who tells a story. So, why not tell your own life story? When you are doing something, say what you are doing out loud. For example, as you pour your cereal in the morning, feel free to say:

“I am pouring cereal. I am putting milk onto my cereal. I am getting a spoon for my cereal. I am eating my cereal, and it tastes delicious!”

This might sound like a silly thing to do, and it is! However, there’s nothing wrong with being silly when you’re learning a new language.

This game will help you realize that present continuous verbs are all around you because this verb tense is always happening in the moment. You live your life in constant present continuous!

This game is also great to learn new vocabulary. You may find that there are many actions you don’t know how to say. Not only can this activity practice your present continuous grammar skills, it can also quiz your vocabulary of verbs.

Be creative, and enjoy your learning!

You are learning or learned the present simple verb tense in your first ESL grammar class, but you still might be making these mistakes. Check your understanding and challenge yourself to master these rules.

The Present Simple Verb Tense

We use the present simple to talk about actions that are either normal or usual. These actions might be a habit, a hobby, or an event that frequently occurs.

Usually, you can add an -s or -es to the end of a base or infinitive verb (See examples below).

Base/Infinitive VerbPresent Simple Verb

Spelling Mistakes

Changing y to i

Are you changing your y’s to i’s? Verbs that end in -y, such as study are spelled differently.

To spell these verbs correctly, simply change the y to an i. Then add the -es to the end of the word (See examples below).

Base/Infinitive VerbSpelling ChangePresent Simple Verb

Sibilant Sounds to -es

What are sibilant sounds? These are sounds that you make by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Letters such as ch, sh, ss, tch, x, and zz make sibilant sounds.

When a verb ends with these sounds, you need to change the spelling to end with an -es (See examples below).

Base/Infinitive VerbPresent Simple Verb

Grammar Mistakes

Be Versus Do

The negative verb tense is used to talk about actions or events that do not usually happen. Most of the time, we use the negative form of the verb do to express things that don’t happen. For example, to express the negative of the verb travel, you can say, I do not travel.

Be careful not to use the verb be when talking about things that do not usually happen. Saying, I am not travel is incorrect. We only use the verb to be when talking about our states of being, not our actions.

I, He, She, They, We, It

Always remember which pronouns require verbs that end in -s. Try to memorize these verb tenses so that you don’t make this simple mistake.

I/You/They/WeNo "s"
He/She/ItEnds with an "s"

Irregular Verbs

Some verbs are irregular and follow different rules (See below). The verbs go, do, be, and have are commonly used, so be sure you learn how to use them correctly.

Irregular VerbI/You/They/WeHe/She/It
BeI am
You/They/We are

Yes/No Question Form

When you ask questions, you should use the verb do. Be careful not to use the verbs be, go, or have.

For example, Does she walk to work? is correct. However, the sentence, Goes she to work? is incorrect.

Try to get into the habit of using do when asking a yes/no question so that you don’t make this simple mistake.

Exercises to Help You Avoid These Mistakes

Are you making these present simple mistakes in your English? There are many websites online where you can test yourself. Here are some short exercises for practicing these specific problems.

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. You can not change the fact that you are an ESL English user. That’s the wonderful and unique thing about you. However, you don’t need to make these simple mistakes when you use English.

Now that you know about these common errors, try to memorize the rules and avoid using the wrong grammar and spelling. Good luck!

Phrasal verbs are usually the enemy of ESL learners. They can be confusing because the meaning of the verb changes based on the preposition that follows it.

So a verb by itself means one thing, a verb with a preposition means another, and a verb with a different preposition means something entirely different!

Common Mistakes Using Phrasal Verbs

1. Avoiding Them

Some ESL learners are so terrified of phrasal verbs, they choose to avoid them altogether. This is not a good approach! Phrasal verbs are used so often in everyday English that it’s crucial to learn them.

It’s best to dedicate a notebook just to learning these words. In your notebook, make a list of common phrasal verbs and write their meaning. Then, practice using them every time you have the opportunity to speak or write in English.

2. Saving Them for Later

So, you don’t want to avoid phrasal verbs altogether, but you’re thinking you’ll just wait until you have an advanced level of English. This is also not a good idea. You should start learning these words immediately!

Learning phrasal verbs early on will help you advance because they are commonly used in everyday English.

3. Learning One Verb at a Time

OK, you’ve decided to learn phrasal verbs. You’re going to start with the verb, Take, and learn every phrasal verb beginning with Take. Yikes! This sounds really difficult!

This method is difficult because there are so many different meanings and they are not similar to each other. For example, take back, take into, take after, take up, take out, take off, are just a few and you can see they are all about completely different topics.

Instead, it’s better to focus on words that are related to a particular subject, such as food, shopping, money, jobs, and transport. For example, words related to food might include pig out, eat out, whip up, warm up, and fry up. Take these words, and put them into a Food category in your notebook.


It’s important to get a notebook and organize the pages into subjects. Write each phrasal verb under a subject and include the definition and a sample sentence.

Look at your notebook often, and practice using the words when you have a chance to speak or write in English. The more you practice, the more you will be able to remember; lowering your chances of making mistakes!