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The use of the past simple form is for actions that were completed at a specific time of speaking, which can be referenced, but in some situations it is unknown at what time that action was completed. For example. They worked together many years ago. Or He arrived yesterday.
The Present Continuous is used for activities that began before a certain period of time in the past, are continuing at the referred time of speaking or thinking and continue after that time, as well as something that is in development. For example. The sky was getting dark, there was a storm coming in. Present Continuous is also used when talking about an action that was interrupted by another action. For example. While she was walking her dog, she saw a strange figure in the shadow behind her.
The use of Past perfect is for actions that were completed in the past, the focus being on the completed task, not on the time period. For example. She had brushed her teeth before leaving the house.
Past Perfect Continuous is not as commonly used or taught, the focus is more on the action being done at the time of speaking. For example. He had been searching for hours, before he found the answer.