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 all,
I am not sure that this sentences is could be past continuous or past perfect.

They watched TV from 7.30 until 9.00. I arrived at 7.30. When i arrived, they were watching TV.

My English is not good so hope you all can understand it.

Thank you

Hello Kaewnutwararat,

The three sentences you wrote make sense and are correct. In the first sentence, 'were watching' is also possible, depending on the wider context, but 'watched' is also correct in general.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you

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

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