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The paradigm of the verb in the past continuous
§ 35. The past continuous is used mostly in narrative although it may occur in conversation as well.
The past continuous is used with all actional verbs and some statal verbs:
1. To denote a continuous action in progress at a certain moment in the past.
At 10 it was still raining.
When I called him up, he was still having breakfast.
The fire began at midnight when everybody was sleeping.
At that time she was already packing up.
In these examples the moment of time is specified directly, by means of adverbials of time or indirectly by some other past action mentioned in the same sentence. The moment of time at which the action is in progress can also be shown by the previous context, or understood from the situation:
He did not answer. His lips were trembling.
I stood motionless, as if glued to the ground. The enormous black bull was galloping towards me at full
I told him that Ralph was staying at the Three Boars.
2. To denote a continuous action in progress during a certain period of time in the past, marked by adverbials - prepositional phrases (from... till, from... to) or adverbs (all day long, the whole night, etc.)
We were quarrelling all day long yesterday.
She says she was washing from six till eight.
When actional durative verbs take the form of the past continuous the actions thus described do not actually differ from those in the form of the past indefinite, as both denote continuous actions in progress at some moment of time in the past:
When I saw him, he was standing by the door.
When I saw him he stood by the door.
Both examples may refer to the same situation. The difference between the two is that the past indefinite lays stress on the fact, while the past continuous emphasizes the process, thus presenting the action more vividly.
However in a complex sentence with a subordinate adverbial clause of time if the predicate verbs both in the principal and in the subordinate clauses express simultaneous continuous actions in progress it is usual (though not obligatory) to use the past indefinite in both the clauses:
While I ate and drank, I looked up the register.
She looked all the while at him as she spoke in her slow, deep voice.
But, the past continuous is rather frequent in adverbial clauses, introduced by the conjunction while, as, when, as long as, etc.:
While they were talking, the boy waited outside.
As he was climbing up, he all the while looked at the birds soaring high above him.
When I was working there, I played in the local jazz band.
She stayed in the car while I was talking to the nurse.
Sometimes the past continuous is found in the principal clause, while the past indefinite is in the subordinate:
They were talking inside while he stood watching the path.
The verbs to stand, to sit, to lie expressing actions in progress at a certain moment, or during a certain period of time in the past are commonly used in the past indefinite, if they are followed by participle I.
They stood by the door, talking loudly.
They sat beside their lorry, drinking soda water and eating sardines from a tin.
He lay in bed trying to forget what had happened.
However, the past continuous is also possible.
She was standing, staring at the open letter in her hand.
3. The past continuous is sometimes used to denote actions characteristic of certain persons in the past. In such sentences the adverbials always and constantly are generally included.
She had rather poor health and was constantly complaining of headaches.
As I remember her she was always fussing over something.
He seemed very absent-minded, he was constantly loosing things.
4. To denote future actions viewed from the past, with verbs of motion (to arrive, to come, to go, to leave, to return, etc.), usually if the action is planned or expected. In this case adverbials of future time are generally used, or the future reference of the verb is clear from the context or situation:
She said she was leaving in a week.
Then I understood that they were not returning either that year or the next.
The ship was sailing in a few hours.
If no future reference of the action is evident, it implies that though the action was planned, it was not and will not be carried out:
“Listen”, I said. “I’ve brought a little cousin of mine along. Joanna was coming up too but was prevented.”
I said quickly: “She was coming to tea yesterday afternoon.” (was due to come, but did not).
§ 36. As follows from the meaning of the past continuous and from its uses described above, it cannot denote a succession of past actions. Two or more verbs having the form of the past continuous, whether used in the same or in adjoining sentences, always denote simultaneous actions performed by different persons or non-persons:
Nash made periodic appearances in the town but what he was doing and what traps the police were setting, I had no idea.
It was a glorious day. The sun was shining high in the sky. There was no wind. The larks were singing in the blue depth. Only far away, over the horizon, soft milky clouds were moving placidly towards the east.
In all its uses the past continuous is translated into Russian by means of the past tense of the imperfective aspect.
The past perfect
§ 37. Formation. The past perfect is formed analytically by the auxiliary to have in the past indefinite and participle II of the notional verb. The interrogative and negative forms and built in the way usual for all analytic forms.
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