past tense

 

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

Comments

Hi Kirk,
How could "He said that he is thirsty." is possible when the reported words are not true at the time of reporting ?
In the previous example when I report to his sister John has had a drink , so at the time of reporting he is not thirsty. Therefore "is" should not be possible.
What do you say ?

Hello orton,

I'm sorry, I read your comment quickly and hadn't noticed that you'd given John water already. If that's the case, then 'was' would clearly be correct and 'is' would not be.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir in one of the grammar book I found " 1) In indirect speech if the reported words are still true at the time of reporting then the tenses do not have to back shift. "
It also says " 2) In indirect speech if the reported speech is made just after the original statement then the tenses do not have to back shift."

My question is - If point 2 is satisfied but point 1 is not, then is it possible to not back shift tense i.e; If reported speech is made just after the original statement BUT the reported words are no longer true then is it correct to not back shift the tense ?

For example - John tells me "I am thirsty." Hearing this I get him water in just few seconds. John drinks water and a minute later I report to his sister - John said that he was/is thirsty.
Which one would be correct here Was or Is ?

Grammar book also mentioned - If the reported words are still true at the time of reporting and the speaker believes the original speaker then tenses do not have to be back shifted.
My second question is if the speaker believes the original speaker BUT the words are not true at the time of reporting then is it correct not to back shift the tense ?

Thank you.
Please advise me on it. I'm too confused .
Your help would be highly appreciated.

Hi orton,

Personally, I'd probably say 'John said he was thirsty', though using 'is' could also be used in the situation you describe.

Could you give an example of the second point you ask about?

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

In indirect speech present perfect tense is back shifted to past perfect tense.
But why I see in news articles that the present perfect tense is often not back shifted to past perfect tense ?
For example - The President said that investigators have conducted hearings on different issues. (Direct speech - President said "The investigators have conducted hearings on different issues"

Why often I see in news articles that present perfect tense is not back shifted to past perfect tense though in almost every book its written present perfect tense is to be converted to past perfect tense in reported speech ?

Please advise me on it.
Thank You

Hello orton,

Although we often shift the verb's time reference back in reported speech, this is not always the case. Sometimes the verb can stay in the original form. For example, both of these are grammatically correct:

She said she loves me. [she still loves me now]

She said she loved me. [she loved me then, we don't know about now]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

what is the difference between following two sentences
1.she had been working since july.
2.she has been working since july.

And which one of the following sentences is correct

1) If i were playing, .
2) If i was playing.

Hello bharathkumarreddy,

The first sentence is an example of the past perfect continuous while the second is an example of the present perfect continuous. For explanations of when to use each of these take a look at these pages:

past perfect

present perfect

perfective aspect

present perfect simple and continuous

With regard to your second question, 'were' (the first option) used to be the correct form. However, in modern English both 'was' and 'were' are acceptable.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to know, what is the difference between this two sentences
1. She had been gone ten years
2. She had gone ten years
Plus, I 'm confused why "had been gone" is used and can be used

Hello Danielyong96,

Although the sentences look similar, they in fact have different verbs in them. The first sentence is an example of [be + past participle/adjective], while the second sentence is an example of 'go' in the past perfect. We can see this if we change them into simple past forms:

1. She was gone ten years.

2. She went ten years.

The first sentence you quote is fine; it means she was not 'here' (where the speaker is).

The second sentence needs more information for it to make sense, such as a destination of some kind: 'She had gone away from her home for ten years'.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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