1 Talking about past events and situations:

We use the past simple:

  • when we are talking about an event that happened at a particular time in the past

We arrived home before dark
The film started at seven thirty.

  • when we are talking about something that continued for some time in the past

Everybody worked hard through the winter.
We stayed with our friends in London.

When we are talking about something that happened several times in the past we use

  • the past simple:

Most evenings we stayed at home and watched DVDs.
Sometimes they went out for a meal.

  • … or used to

Most evenings we used to stay at home and watch DVDs.
We used to go for a swim every morning.

  • ... or would

Most evenings he would take the dog for a walk.
They would often visit friends in Europe.

WARNING: We do not normally use would with stative verbs.

We use the past continuous:

  • when we are talking about something which happened before and after a given time in the past

It was just after ten. I was watching the news on TV.
At half-time we were losing 1-0.

  • when we are talking about something happening before and after another action in the past:

He broke his leg when he was playing rugby.
She saw Jim as he was driving away.

2 The past in the past

When we are looking back from a point in the past to something earlier in the past we use the past perfect:

Helen suddenly remembered she had left her keys in the car.
When we had done all our shopping we caught the bus home.
They wanted to buy a new computer, but they hadn’t saved enough money.
They would have bought a new computer if they had saved enough money.

3 The past and the present:

We use the present perfect:

  • when we are talking about the effects in the present of something that happened in the past:

I can’t open the door. I’ve left my keys in the car.
Jenny has found a new job. She works in a supermarket now.

  • When we are talking about something that started in the past and still goes on:

We have lived here since 2007. (and we still live here)
I have been working at the university for over ten years.

4 The future in the past

When we talk about the future from a time in the past we use:

  • would as the past tense of will

He thought he would buy one the next day.
Everyone was excited. The party would be fun.

  • was/were going to

John was going to drive and Mary was going to follow on her bicycle.
It was Friday. We were going to set off the next day.

  • the past continuous:

It was September. Mary was starting school the next week.
We were very busy. The shop was opening in two weeks' time.





hello,why is there not "Mary would start school the next week" instead of Mary was starting school the next day" as your example above? that sounds me bad..

Hello manuel24,

When we talk about arrangements, we use the present continuous:

Mary is starting school next week.


If we want to say the same thing but referring to the future from a point in the past, we use the past continuous:

Mary was starting school next week.


Grammatically, you could say ...would start..., but this would change the meaning and no longer present the action as an arrangement. For example, you could use this form to describe a decision:

We decided that Mary would start school next week.



The LearnEnglish Team

thank you peter,the sentence "Mary was starting school next week" could have the same meaning of "Mary would have started school next week"?I also would say if the sentence "someone would suddenly put a coin in it and it would begin to play" is correct,shouldn't be "someone would have suddenly put a coin in it and it would have begun to play?

Hello manuel24,

Those sentences are not the same.

Mary was starting school next week means that it was her intention to start school. There is no information about whether or not she did start.

Mary would have started... tells us that she did not start school. It describes something that was intended but did not come to pass for some reason.

The difference between the last two sentences is similar, but it makes little sense to discuss them without a context. Modal verbs such as would are context dependent. Your sentence could refer to past habits or to a hypothetical situation in the present or future, for example.


I suggest you take a look at our section on modal verbs:




The LearnEnglish Team

hello everyone,i don't understand the construction of the following sentence:
"But his career could have panned out very differently had he opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager".Why "had is not after the subject?shouldn't there be "if" after "differently"?

Hello manuel24,

There are two ways to phrase this sentence.

You can use if:

But his career could have panned out very differently if he had opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager.

Or you can use the inverted form:

But his career could have panned out very differently had he opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello learn english team
I want to ask something about last sentence in the excersice why the answer is suffered not had suffered
Aren’t they remembering their suffer so it an event happened and finished and then they start remembering

Hi Aya salah,

The past perfect is used when there is another point of reference in the past. In the first part of this sentence, the point of reference is the present (they find it difficult now), not the past, so the past perfect would be strange here unless there were some other mention of the past in the text. Since this sentence stands alone (i.e. is not part of another text), the best answer is in the past simple.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Learn English team,
I have found this sentence online which was mentioned as a general statement.
"Facebook was basically invented to accomplish a social mission"
The question is, is the using of model "was" correct here? I think if it is replaced by "is" word , the sentence will be perfect - as long as "Facebook" still exists, am I correct?

Hello Hopefinder,

'Was' here is not a modal verb but an auxiliary verb. It is part of the passive verb phrase 'was invented'.

Facebook still exists, of course. However, the sentence is not about it existing but rather it being invented, and the invention was at one moment in the past. Therefore, you cannot replace 'was' with 'is' here.



The LearnEnglish Team