The Past Tense is used for actions or events which happened at a definite point of time or place in the past (whether mentioned or not). The focus is on the factual aspect of the action or event.
Ex: When / Where did you buy this car?
I bought it last week / in Paris.
She sold her flat / yesterday / last week / on Monday / a month ago / in July / in 2001.
emphasizes the duration of a past action
Ex: I was learning English all afternoon yesterday.
is used for an action/event which is still in progress when it is interrupted by another,
Ex: I was (still) having breakfast when he rang me up.
It was (still) raining when the dam broke.
for actions which are in progress simultaneously (introduced with ‘while’, ‘as’)
Ex: While I was getting the drinks ready, my wife was welcoming the guests.
Simple: He looked away when I talked to him, (> my talking made him look away)
Continuous: He was looking away when I talked to him. (> an action interrupted by
Simple: I got up, dressed and had breakfast. (> one person performing three successive
Continuous: While I was watching TV, mother was cooking and my sister was laying the
table. (>three persons acting simultaneously)
The Past Perfect Simple
The Past Perfect is used for an action/event which was already completed when another began.
Ex: He had already left when I arrived.
He had been dead for hours before they found him.
The Past Perfect Continuous
The Past Perfect Continuous is used to stress duration.
Ex: The baby had been crying for hours before it was heard by a neighbour.