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:

Tense Form
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

dear sir/madam,

why should we not use PAST PERFECT to show single action in the past

is/are there reason/s ?

i had had
she had been

please help

Hi , I have a question regarding two of the exercises.
In the sentence "If she could see him now, she'd be so proud." why is it considered as past tense is used to describe the present or future in a conditional statement. No matter how I look at it I can't figure out how it is past tense , to me it seems more like a hypothetical statement.
Similarly, could you explain how "If you moved abroad, you might never see them again." is considered a hypothetical statement and not a conditional talking about the future? Thank you so much

Hi Amir-A,

In conditional sentences, past forms can be used to describe present or future actions or states which are unlikely or impossible. The key is whether or not a condition is considered likely/possible or unlikely/impossible. For example, both of these sentences describe the same future condition:

If it rains tomorrow we'll have to stay indoors. [the speaker thinks rain is likely]

If it rained tomorrow we'd have to stay indoors. [the speaker does not expect rain]

For more information on conditional and hypothetical forms see these pages: here, herehere and here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I tried to use past perfect to wrote this sentence,but I'm not sure it true or fault.
I wish you can helped me if you had time.
"Could I brought these chocolate to camping if you had agreed."

Hello Ice,

I'm afraid that sentence isn't grammatically correct. I'd be happy to help you make it correct, but I don't understand exactly what you want to say. If you're talking about a camping trip that already happened that you didn't bring chocolate to, you could use a third conditional construction here: 'Could I have brought this chocolate camping if you had agreed?'

If you mean something else, please explain it a bit and we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk
I read this example"We can use the past forms to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:"
So I want to know,Is it use past forms to ask somebody agree to do something is polite?
My sentence want to talk about my wish,what should i say?

Hello Ice,

Could you please give a specific example? It's difficult to answer such a general question without knowing more specifically what you mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

1) Sir can/could you Please help me.
Which form should be used present/past, for a request.

2) Jessica would chastise him
Or
Jessica would have chastised him.
Here Jessica is his daughter who is expired.

Hello suryachaitanya,

In general, both the past and present can be used for requests.

'would have chastisted' is the appropriate form for someone who has passed away but whom you think would have done something now. See our Conditionals 2 page for more on this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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