Past Continuous Usage 6: Contextual time

Contextual time: Past Continuous is used for ongoing actions in the past, even if the period or point in time when an action was happening is not indicated. Usually it happens when there is no need to explicitly show the time. This is because it’s just not important, or we can easily infer time from the context.

Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

In the above example, we can understand that at the time one person was talking, the other one wasn’t listening. So, the time is actually inferred by contextual means. In this example, the period or point in time is another, not stated explicitly ongoing action in the past (somebody was talking). Thus, we have taken the time action out of context, and this time is expressed by another ongoing action, which is not explicitly indicated in the sentence.

Just to remind you, in Past Continuous we have parallel actions, perpendicular actions and actions at a point or period of time. In this particular example it falls into the rule of parallel actions in Past Continuous.

When you were saying something, I wasn’t listening.

Another example:

(Question) Why didn’t you come?

(Answer) I was preparing for my exam.

Also, in the above example, the time is inferred from the conversation. The speaker could mean morning time, exact time, a period of time etc.:

I was preparing for my exam while you were celebrating your birthday (another continuous parallel action)

I was preparing for my exam when it happened (another completed action – perpendicular action)

I was preparing for my exam all morning (period in time)

I was preparing for my exam on the 22d of January (date – period of time)

I was preparing for my exam on your birthday (event – period of time)

I was preparing for my exam at 3 pm (exact point in time)

I was preparing for my exam from 3 to 7 pm (period in time)

That’s why I didn’t come.

(Answer) I was preparing for my exam.

In this example the time is not explicitly shown, however, the two speakers know exactly what time they are referring to.

In conclusion, contextual time in Past Continuous

is:

parallel action

perpendicular action

exact time

period of time

date (point o period in time)

event (point o period in time)

Past Continuous with contextual time has 3 conditions:

1. Action was taking place in the past

2. Action was not complete, i.e. it was continuous

3. Action was happening during a time period and this period is not in the sentence, but we can infer it from the context. Action was ongoing during contextual time.

Also on Past Continuous:

Back to: Past Continuous Tense, also Past Progressive

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