The past continuous is generally introduced at the A2 level, and it is at this level when learners can demonstrate a competent use of the affirmative form. The past continuous is often used at this level to talk about actions and states in progress around a particular time in the past.

A2 50x33   I went to a soccer game. They were playing the last game to get the championship. (Cambridge English: Key; Spanish - Latin American)

A2 50x33   It was raining, but the concert was so good that I did not mind. (Cambridge English: Key for Schools; Spanish - Latin American)

Learners at the A2 level also use the past continuous to show that an event was happening in the background of the main event.

A2 50x33   Yesterday we were studying maths in your house, and I left my book on your bed. (Cambridge English: Key; Spanish - Latin American)

A2 50x33   It was raining when I arrived. (Cambridge English: Key; German)

Learners are able to use a limited range of adverbs (in the normal mid position) with the past continuous.

A2 50x33   I was just watching a football match. (Cambridge English: Key; Bengali)

A2 50x33   [talking about wanting to get a kitten] I was always dreaming about it. (Cambridge English: Key; Russian)

Once the B1 level is achieved, learners use an increasing range of adverbs.

B1 50x33   He was still waiting at the traffic light. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)

B1 50x33   He was actually acting like a ghost. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Chinese)

B1 50x33   Learners at the B1 level can also use the negative form of the past continuous. However, the frequency of this form remains low (with speakers of Romance languages using it most often).

B1 50x33   I tried to phone her house, but her phone wasn’t working. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish - Latin American)

B1 50x33   I’m writing you this letter to tell you that we felt so bad when we heard you weren’t working at the school any more. (CELSP; Spanish - Latin American)

Learners at the B1 level can also demonstrate skill in using the past continuous in questions.

B1 50x33   What were you doing? (Cambridge English: Preliminary for Schools; Russian)

B1 50x33   [talking about a dream] Everything was strange. Why was I following a green fox? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish - Latin American)

B1 level learners use the past continuous to give a reason for something, often with because.

B1 50x33   Because she was sitting in the corner, she could see the whole view of the café in front of her. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Arabic - Meghreb)

B1 50x33   Yesterday a TV company came to my school because they were doing a science quiz. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Catalan)

Learners also use the past continuous to talk about ongoing repeated events in the past, often with always.

B1 50x33   Worst of all, in September it was always raining. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Portuguese)

B1 50x33   He was always talking about this prize but I never thought he would win it. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Tamil)

Once the B2 level is achieved, learners are able to use the past continuous with an even wider range of adverbs (in the normal mid position).

B2 50x33   My younger brother was constantly bothering me. (Cambridge English: First; Russian)

B2 50x33   One day, as she was wistfully walking in the dusk of that day, she told herself she could either go on living her lonely life or make a huge effort to fit in. (Cambridge English: First; French)

B2 level learners can use the past continuous to make a request or suggestion more polite or less direct.

B2 50x33   I was wondering if I could impose on you again for my next visit. (Cambridge English: First; Chinese)

B2 50x33   I was thinking that you could come to my house and see the movie. (CELSV; Spanish - Latin American)

There is no significant progress with learner use of the past continuous at the C1 level. However, once the C2 level is achieved, learners are able to use the past continuous with always or constantly to talk about repeated events which are undesired or uncontrolled.

C2 50x33   They had been told that I was always getting into mischief and so had decided that, by buying me this diary, I would probably calm down a little and my behaviour would change. (Cambridge English: Proficiency; Catalan)

C2 50x33   I was constantly trying to balance my school life, extra-curricular activities, studies and personal life and was always running out of time. (Cambridge English: Proficiency; Greek)

Learners make a variety of improvements with their use of the past continuous (in terms of both form and function) as they progress through the CEFR levels, but it is the use of adverbs with the past continuous that is a consistent point of progress.

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