Intermediate grammar exercise: past simple vs. past continuous

English grammar practice exercise, for pre-intermediate and intermediate level.

In this exercise you will practise the past simple and past continuous tenses.


Instructions: Use the words in brackets to put the following into the correct tense – the past simple or past continuous.


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Structure of past simple
positive negative question
I arrived yesterday.
You arrived yesterday.
He/she/it arrived.
We arrived.
They arrived.
I didn't (did not) arrive.
You didn't (did not) arrive.
He/she/it didn't arrive.
We didn't arrive.
They didn't arrive.
Did I arrive yesterday?
Did you arrive?
Did he/she/it arrive?
Did we arrive?
Did they arrive?

Structure of past continuous
positive negative question
I was reading a book. 
He/she was talking. 
It was raining. 
I wasn't (was not) reading.
He/she wasn't talking. 
It wasn't raining.         
Was I reading?
Was he/she talking?
Was it raining?
You were reading a book. 
We were waiting. 
They were drinking. 
You weren't (were not) reading.
We weren't talking.
They weren't drinking.
Were you reading?
Were we waiting?
Were they drinking?

Past simple – common mistakes
Common mistakes Correct version Why?
I was work in London. I worked in London. In positive sentences, a helping verb such as was or did is not used.
He worked in London? Did he work in London? The helping verb did is used in past simple questions.
Worked he in London? Did he work in London? The helping verb did is used in past simple questions.
Did he wrote a letter? Did he write a letter? The main verb is used in the infinitive form in questions and negatives.
He didn't wrote a letter. He didn't write a letter. The main verb is used in the infinitive form in questions and negatives.

Past continuous - common mistakes
Common mistakes Correct version Why?
I waiting for him almost two hours. I was waiting for him almost two hours. To form the past continuous we use was/were + ing.
What did he doing when you saw him? What was he doing when you saw him? To form the past continuous we use was/were + ing.
We were playing tennis every morning. We played tennis every morning. We mostly use the past simple (‘we played’) for repeated actions in the past.
They watched TV when I came. They were watching TV when I came. We use the past continuous when we want to say what was happening (what was in progress) at a particular time in the past.