Prétérit ou be + ing (Simple Past or Past Continuous)

Parfois il faut choisir entre simple past (prétérit : I did) et past continuous (be + ing : I was doing)

Le past continuous va décrire le contexte d’une scène donc quelque-chose de durable, de continu:

  • It was raining, people were talking, cars were driving by.

Le simple past va décrire des évènements ponctuels.

  • The police arrived, they spoke to a man, someone called an Ambulance

Souvent les deux temps sont utilisés dans la même phrase. A nous de repérer quelle partie de la phrase est au past continuous (contexte) et quelle partie de la phrase est au simple past (évènements ponctuels)


  • « I was having a shower when the phone rang »

I was having a shower = contexte = past continuous

when the phone rang = évènement ponctuel = simple past

  • « When the teacher entered the room (event), the children were laughing. (context)
  • « As we were walking on the beach (context), it started to rain. (event)

Cas particuliers : Ces verbes sont (presque) toujours au simple past : Be, Want, Like, Understand, Know, Remember, Forget, Prefer, Need, Mean, Believe, Forget.

Astuce : Si vous avez un doute traduisez les phrases en français. Le passé composé français se traduira généralement par le simple past, et l’imparfait se traduira généralement par le past continuous.

Voici quelques exercices pour vous entrainer.

Exercice 1) : Complétez les phrases avec le Simple past ou le Past continuous. Pour le corrigé écoutez les enregistrements.

1 I ______________________________ (to work) when the postman ___________________________ (to come).

2 He ______________________ (to meet) Sally as he ___________________________ (to walk) down the street.

3 They _________________________ (to drink) cocktails when the King _________________________ (to decide) to make a speech.

4 I ______________________________ (to read) Charles Dickens but I _____________________________ (to stop) because I _____________________________ (to want) to read Harry Potter.

5 I _______________ my parents yesterday (to see). They __________________ (to clean) the house.

6 Yesterday at 5pm, I _______________________ (to play) the piano. I _________________________ (to stop) at 5:30 and __________________________ (to have) a shower.

7 It was a beautiful day. The sun ________________________ (to shine) and the birds __________________________ (to sing). We __________________ (to go) for a walk.

8 The neighbors _____________________ (to call) the police because I _______________________ (to sing) too loud.

Exercice 2) Complétez les phrases avec le Simple past négatif (didn’t + verbe) ou le Past continuous négatif (wasn’t/weren’t + verbing).

1 It _______wasn’t raining____________________ (to not rain) so we went out.

2 It ___________________________ (to not rain) last week.

3 We _________________________ (to not go) out because it was raining.

4 I ____________________________ (to not sleep) at 10am, I was playing the piano.

5 I ____________________________ (to not sleep) at all last night!

6 I __________________________ (to not watch) the game yesterday.

7 I __________________________ (to not watch) TV when the accident happened.

8 In 1993 they __________________________ (to not live) in London.

9 They __________________________ (to not live) in France for very long.

10 He _____________________________ (to not feel) very well so he went to bed.

11 She ___________________________ (to not feel) well after dinner. Maybe she ate something bad.

Exercice 3 Complétez avec DID ou WERE ou WAS puis le verbe avec ing ou non.

1 _____Did_________ you _____finish_________ your exam yesterday? (to finish)

2 What ______were__________ you ______doing_______ yesterday at 3 pm? (to do)

3 _________________ you _____________ Bob last night? (to see)

4 What _____________ he _________________ when you met him? (to do)

5 What _____________ we ________________ about? (to talk) I don’t remember.

6 _______________ it ________________ when the match started? (to rain)

7 When ___________ the rain _________________ ? (to stop)

8 How _______________ he _______________ his leg? (to break)

9 How fast _____________ he __________________ when the accident happened? (to drive)

10 ________________ she _______________ the match? (to win)

11 ________________ she _________________ at 5pm? (to win)

12 Why _____________ you _____________ me? (to hit) _____________ I ________________ (to snore) ?

Exercice 4 Complétez avec la bonne forme du passé (plus dur)


– « ______________ you ____________ Bob yesterday? » (to meet)

– « Yes. He __________________________ (to play) tennis with some friends. We __________________________ (to talk) for a few minute and I __________________________ . » (to leave)


–  » What ______________ you ________________? (to say) I __________________________ . (to not listen)

–  » I _______________ (to say) please pass the salt.


– « Where _______________ John ______________ when you saw him yesterday? » (to go)

– « He ___________________________________ to the train station. (to go) He _________________________ (to be) in a hurry. He ____________________________ (to not have) time to talk.


– What ___________________ yesterday? (to happen)

– Well we _________________________ football (to play) when suddenly a monkey _______________ (to run) onto the field and (to steal) _________________ our ball!

– Wow! ______________ you _________________ (to find) the monkey?

– Yes we __________________ (to find) it after searching for an hour. It _____________________________ (to hide) in a tree.