We use this tense when we describe a state, an event or an action (single, repeated or habitual) at a point in the past or within a completed past time period.
– My parents met in Canada in 1975.
– When I was a child, we lived in Vancouver.
The past simple is often used to tell a story or describe a sequence of events. Initially, a time referent or other specific detail is often given to anchor the events to a specific time or situation.
– When Chris Marris came to Queensmill in 1982, he was astonished by Stephen’s drawings.
– Something really amazing happened to us in the USA. (= when we were in the USA)
1. One use of this tense is to describe something which was alread in progress at a point in the past, and which continued after the point.
– I was stil working at eight o’clock.
– The plane was just taking off when I found I didn’t have my bag with me.
– When I first saw him, Stephen was sitting on his own, drawing.
2. We also use this tense to describe something which was interrupted by another event.
– We were just setting off to the airport when we heard that all fights were cancelled due to the snow.
3. We can also use it to describe two events occurring simultaneously over a period of time.
– Stephen was producing these amazing drawings when other children his age were drawing stick figures.
In narratives, the past continous is often used to set the background to the story before the actual events are related.
– I was sitting on my balcony, enjoying the spring sunshine, when the telephone rang.