I understand that when we use the past continuous tense, our listener usually understands what time we are talking about. Like, "I was working at 10 pm last night."

However, I saw a sentence in a textbook it wrote that "I was in bed asleep at 4.30 this morning." I wonder why it didn't use past continuous tense; can we say "I was being in bed asleep at 4.30 this morning" or not? Plus, I'm not sure if the verb to be can be continuous or not for this case.

Moreover for verbs that can't be continuous, if I write a specific time, I have to use past tense not continuous tense, right? For example, "I saw a very big bird at 10 am this morning." Is it correct to use past tense "saw" in this case?

1 Answer 1


Right, as you say, when we use the past continuous tense there is usually some context that makes it clear to the reader / listener when the event was happening. Your question seems to be mostly about stative verbs (1) to be; and (2) to see.

(1) Be

Verbs that are not typically used in continuous tenses are called stative. Examples are see, be, want, hear. So we say "I was in bed..." not "I was being...". There are some cases when stative verbs like "be" are used in a continuous tense and these cases tend to change the meaning of the verb.

(2) See

As to the correctness of "I saw a very big bird at 10am this morning", this will depend on the context. It is a grammatically correct sentence; it appropriately expresses the idea that at 10am a bird appeared in view.

However, if you wanted to express some kind of continuous observation then you would need a different verb, not see (which is stative). E.g. you might say, "when someone knocked on the door at 10am I was watching a big bird".

  • +1 Did you drop the word "stative" from the end of the first sentence of your second paragraph? Sep 4, 2013 at 18:51
  • See is sometimes stative, sometimes not. "I was seeing a bird" is not correct. "I was seeing a woman" could be. "I saw a woman" is also grammatical and could be either meaning of "see".
    – Peter Flom
    Sep 4, 2013 at 19:44
  • 1
    @PeterFlom Yes; I think that's what Jon meant when he said that sometimes they are used in a continuous tense but it usually changes the meaning :) +1!
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 4, 2013 at 22:35
  • Thank you everyone. And thanks a lot Jon for your explanations, It is so useful and helpful. Ah, it 's called stative verbs. Your explanations and that website really help me and it's easy to understand. I appreciate your help.
    – nkm
    Sep 5, 2013 at 2:40
  • @PeterFlom- But if someone asked me, "When you were looking through the binoculars what were you seeing?" I'd reply, "I was seeing a bird."
    – Jim
    Sep 5, 2013 at 4:21

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