Past form or be -ing?
Past Simple vs Present Progressive

When do people use the past form and when do we use be -ing? Let’s look at some sentences with the past form (past simple) and be -ing (present progressive/present continuous)  to better understand the meanings -ed and be -ing add and why speakers choose to use them.

Or start with our practice exercises.

Why do we use them?

We add the past form (-ed) to show we aren’t referring to the present-future. Things that do not happen in the present-future often finished in the past.

We add be -ing to show something is not finished.


We use the past form for finished actions. They happened in the past.

We use am/are/is + -ing form for actions that are not finished. They are happening in the present-future.

past simple tense timeline - completed action in the past

I worked yesterday.
She didn’t play last week.
Did you go to the restaurant last night?

present progressive / present continuous tense timeline - not finished, started, happening now

I‘m working (now). (This started in the past and finishes in the future. It is happening now.)
She isn’t playing (now).
Are you going to the restaurant (now)?

present progressive / present continuous tense timeline - future action

I‘m working tomorrow. (This starts and finishes in the future.It is happening in the future.)
She isn’t playing next week.
Are you going to the restaurant tonight?

Practice Exercises

1. Complete the conversation

*TIP* This is a conversation, so use “I’m cooking…”

2. Complete the sentences

3. How can we say it?

Choose sentences to fit the situations. There may be more than one answer.

How did you go? These two parts are used in many English tense patterns so it is good to think about what they mean and how they are used.

If you’d like to go over them again you can review information on the past form and be -ing,

Or, look another common pattern that is useful for everyday speech: have -en (known as the present perfect tense).

or return to top.