There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The past tense in English is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses – things that are imagined rather than true.
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Past simple: I worked
Past continuous: I was working
Past perfect: I had worked
Past perfect continuous: I had been working

We use these forms:

  • to talk about the past:

He worked at McDonald’s. He had worked there since July..
He was working at McDonald’s. He had been working since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in conditions:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing they would probably win.

and hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.
I would always help someone who really needed help.

and wishes:

I wish it wasn’t so cold.

  • In conditions, hypotheses and wishes, if we want to talk about the past, we always use the past perfect:

I would have helped him if he had asked.
It was very dangerous, What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month.

 

  • We can use the past forms to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:

Excuse me, I was wondering if this was the train for York.
I just hoped you would be able to help me.

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

If David was here, he'd know what to do.

After IF the rule as I was taught in university is WERE, i.e.

If David WERE here, he'd know what to do.

curious who is writing this stuff?

Hello epidietics,

'were' is considered the best form in traditional grammars, but the truth is that people have long used both 'was' and 'were' interchangeably in second conditional constructions. So you could say it the way you prefer, but 'was' is also perfectly correct. 

These grammar pages were written by David Willis, a well-known applied linguist, and in general reflect the way standard varieties of English are spoken.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir,

I am confusing to use present or past tense about this sentence. May I know which one is correct?

1) One month ago, he said that the abbreviation of Oxford University Press was OUP.
2) One month ago, he said that the abbreviation of Oxford University Press is OUP.

Hello Conroy,

Both forms are correct here. 'was' focuses more on the time that he said that, and 'is' focuses more on the general truth of what he said.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello team,
I would like to know that can I use "was" in a past tense essay even though I am still doing it or having it now?

Hello Jswongjason,

I would expect that you can, but without knowing the particular context I cannot say more than that.

 


Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I'll give 2 examples now :)
- I was a happy kid (still maintain now)
- I was a male (still mantain now) ?
Thanks

Hello Jswongjason,

Normally, our gender does not change, so if you use a past form for something like 'I was a male' then you are implying that you are a male no longer, so this is a rather odd use unless your gender has changed. You might use the past tense in conjunction with another action: I was a male, which was unusual on that course.

I'm afraid, however, that your question is asking for a general rule when it really depends on particular examples and specific contexts. Which tense would be appropriate depends on the text as a whole, not individual sentences. As I showed above, even a very unusual sentence could be possible given a particular context.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

can you explain clearly the difference between [1] I WISH I WERE TALLER and [2] IF I WERE TALLER.and [1] I WISH I WERE DEAD.and [2] IF I WERE DEAD.
I know these sentences are in subjunctive mood.I am asking the difference

Hello sabago,

'I wish' is usually used to express regret or sadness over a present situation; if you say 'I wish I were taller' it means that you are not happy about being short. See our wish and if only page for more.

In the clause you ask about 'If' is used to talk about a situation that is not true, because if you say 'if I were dead' you are of course alive. See our conditionals 1 page for more on this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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