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

Hello,
I am confused are these below a combination of tenses? Number 1 – is this past simple and present perfect because they finished reading the book but then they being sick since Tuesday is present perfect?

1) I only read half the book because I have been sick since Tuesday.
2) My Grandmother died before I was born, and so I never met her.
3) When Ann first moved to Italy, she spoke almost no Italian. Since then she has learned quite a bit.

Hello Angel_Sea,

I'm not sure what the source of those sentences is but they do not appear correct to me. As the action of reading the book is incomplete the present perfect would be used:

I have only read half the book because I have been sick since Tuesday.

The second sentence is fine. Both actions are in the past and are complete; neither can change now.

The third sentence is fine. The moving and the state of not speaking Italian are finished past time and so past simple is appropriate; the learning is recent/unfinished past with a present result and so present perfect is correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I get confusion lot of times b/w past and past perfect.
Isn't it correct -
He worked at McD's.He worked there since July.
He was away that week so he had missed the meeting.
He could get a new job if he had really tried.
If Jack was playing they had probably win.
If David was here, he had known what to do.
If she could see him now , she had been so proud...
these all are such instances, how can I help myself in overcoming this thing. when to use what....??

Hello Vickyy Bhardwaj,

I can see that you are confused by this issue and it is a tricky area. The important thing to remember is that we use the past perfect when there is a relationship between two events in the past, not just when one is before another. For example:

I ate grapefruit for breakfast and a large lunch later on. [actions one after another]

I had a large lunch as I had eaten only grapefruit for breakfast. [the lunch is large because of the small breakfast]

When deciding whether the past perfect is appropriate or not we need to know the context and the perspective of the speaker. As you can see from the example above, the same actions can be expressed in different ways depending on the speaker's intention and choices.

Your sentences describe many different situations, and they are not examples of the same thing. Some appear to be about the past and others about the present or future. It's not possible to explain each example but here is how I would say these - with the caveat that many different forms are possible, depending on the context and intention of the speaker:

He worked at McDonald's. He had worked there since July.

He had been away that week so he missed the meeting.

He could get a new job if he really tried.

If Jack had been playing they would probably have won.

If David had been here, he would have known what to do.

If she could see him now, she would be so proud.

To learn more about the past perfect I think these pages will be useful for you:

past perfect

talking about the past

past perfect (another page)

perfective aspect

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir ,
I haven't finished any of the books I ( started / had started / has started ) in the last couple of months.

Which for is correct and when to use the other ones?!

One more thing my English is quite good now but still it's hard to write Sentences some times. it's hard to link them together and I don't know if it's a grammatical defect or vocabulary so any advice please!

Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience :)

Hello Ahmedkhairy,

In that sentence, 'started' is the correct form. You can see explanations of the other two forms - 'had started' is past perfect and 'has started' is present perfect - by following the links. Our talking about the past page might also be helpful. If it's still not clear to you after reading those pages, you're welcome to ask again, but please make your question as specific as possible.

There's some general advice on improving your writing on our Frequently asked questions page that you might find helpful. If possible, I'd suggest looking for a teacher to help you. You could contact the British Council in Egypt about a class to find one. It's also important that you read widely in English. Make a note of how sentences are joined together and imitate what you read in your own writing.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, a university has placed students to their various departments few days ago, and I want to inform them about it. QUESTION: Hi all, registration starts tomorrow for students that ARE PLACE in erciyes university. should the word place be in past simple?
Thank you for d good work

Hello sirmee,

I think what would be best here is 'that have been placed', which is the verb 'be' in the present perfect tense and using the past participle of 'place' as an adjective.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir
I have one doubt regarding 3rd conditional

Sir can we use SHOULD in 3rd conditional for result clause like how we use could might and would.

Should

Hello Ajaz ajju,

I can't think of a situation in which 'should have' + past participle could be used in the third conditional. But there may be some situation where it's appropriate that I just can't think of off the top of my head, so if you have something specific in mind or have seen it somewhere, please mention it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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