I'm having trouble understanding some aspects of the Past Continuous tense.

1) I'm struggling to find an example with "from...to" in grammar books. What tenses should I use with this time frame? It seems like it is a particular time + action in progress (therefore Continuous), but it's also a finished time frame (therefore not Continuous).

I ... football from 6 to 8 yesterday.
I ... football from 6 to 8 today.
I ... football from 6 to 8 tomorrow.

2) One of my grammar books gives two rules.

  1. We use Past Simple to talk about longer past actions.
    Mary and Tim studied physics at university.
  2. We use Past Continuous to describe an action or situation in the past that continued for a period of time.
    It was snowing heavily all that day.

How can I distinguish between these rules? Perhaps, there are some particular time expressions or differences in speaker's attitude. But I don't always see it.

  • "I ... football from 6 to 8 tomorrow." is not in the past... it's not "finished"... it's in the future. "I ... football from 6 to 8 today." is unclear because it may be later today or earlier today. Without knowing what time it is currently, we can not know if it's in the past or future... But choosing between simple and past is more related to what you're saying than some strict rules in a book. What are you trying to say?
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 6:44
  • I ... football from 6 to 8 yesterday. - Finished past. I ... football from 6 to 8 today. - It's morning now and I'm talking about my plans for the near future. I ... football from 6 to 8 tomorrow. - Just future.
    – Oksana Ya
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 10:04
  • By "finished" I mean that we can see a particular time frame. E.g., there are many examples for Future and Past Continuous that refer to specific point in time (I was/will be playing football at 7 o'clock yesterday/tomorrow). They are explained as follows: "at that time you was/will be in the middle of doing something".
    – Oksana Ya
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 10:04
  • Continuous tenses in the sentences like "When I come, you will be playing football" and "When I came, you were playing football" are explained as describing an interrupted action. But "from...to" describes the whole action from the start till the end, so it looks to me more like "finished", not "interrupted".
    – Oksana Ya
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 10:04

1 Answer 1


I think your confusion is that you have to use one or the other. Sometimes both the simple past and the past continuous are fine, but mean slightly different things, or better fit the context.

It snowed from 2 to 4 yesterday (so in the evening everything was covered in white)

It was snowing from 2 to 4 yesterday (while I was driving back from my parents' house).

This is more about style or nuance, than simple grammar. You can use the past continuous when giving a time frame to another action that happened around the same time -- or even to imply that something else what happening.

It was hailing from midnight to three in the morning! (which was unusual, so it woke me up).

You aren't required to use the past continuous. You could simply say, "It hailed from midnight to three." But, because the use of the continuous describes something happening, it can make the listener feel like they are also there, in that moment.

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