talking about the past

 

1 Talking about past events and situations:

We use the past simple:

  • when we are talking about an event that happened at a particular time in the past

We arrived home before dark
The film started at seven thirty.

  • when we are talking about something that continued for some time in the past

Everybody worked hard through the winter.
We stayed with our friends in London.

When we are talking about something that happened several times in the past we use

  • the past simple:

Most evenings we stayed at home and watched DVDs.
Sometimes they went out for a meal.

  • … or used to

Most evenings we used to stay at home and watch DVDs.
We used to go for a swim every morning.

  • ... or would

Most evenings he would take the dog for a walk.
They would often visit friends in Europe.

WARNING: We do not normally use would with stative verbs.

We use the past continuous:

  • when we are talking about something which happened before and after a given time in the past

It was just after ten. I was watching the news on TV.
At half-time we were losing 1-0.

  • when we are talking about something happening before and after another action in the past:

He broke his leg when he was playing rugby.
She saw Jim as he was driving away.

2 The past in the past

When we are looking back from a point in the past to something earlier in the past we use the past perfect:

Helen suddenly remembered she had left her keys in the car.
When we had done all our shopping we caught the bus home.
They wanted to buy a new computer, but they hadn’t saved enough money.
They would have bought a new computer if they had saved enough money.

3 The past and the present:

We use the present perfect:

  • when we are talking about the effects in the present of something that happened in the past:

I can’t open the door. I’ve left my keys in the car.
Jenny has found a new job. She works in a supermarket now.

  • When we are talking about something that started in the past and still goes on:

We have lived here since 2007. (and we still live here)
I have been working at the university for over ten years.

4 The future in the past

When we talk about the future from a time in the past we use:

  • would as the past tense of will

He thought he would buy one the next day.
Everyone was excited. The party would be fun.

  • was/were going to

John was going to drive and Mary was going to follow on her bicycle.
It was Friday. We were going to set off the next day.

  • the past continuous:

It was September. Mary was starting school the next week.
We were very busy. The shop was opening in two weeks time.

 

 

Exercise

Comments

Can modal verb would be used for present time reference and future time reference(not asking for future in past).Please elaborate with examples context-wise.
please analyse these sentences grammatically and 'making sense' point of view.
1)when a child is marked absent, his parents would immediately be sent an SMS.(can 'will' be used instead of would, what would be difference in meaning?)
2)if your parents do not report to me by 11am you would be debarred from attending further classes.
3)the PM would visit this place tommorrow.

Hello innocentashish420,

Modal verbs usually have a present or future time reference, unless they are perfect modals. For example:

You should see a doctor. [the advice is about now and the future]

You should have seen a doctor. [a perfect modal with a past time reference]

As far as the second part of the question goes, I'm afraid we can't provide detailed explanations of lists of sentences. There are many users on LearnEnglish and it is simply not possible for us to provide what amounts to an individual lesson like this.

Please take a look at the pages on conditional and hypothetical forms and I think they will help you to analyse these sentences yourself:

verbs in time clauses and if clauses

wishes and hypotheses

will and would

conditionals 1

conditionals 2

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

only if you have been in the deepest valleys, you would know how magnificent it feels to be o the highest mountain.
only if you were in the deepest valleys, you would know how magnificent it feels to be o the highest mountain.
plzz explain the difference in meaning.

Hello innocentashish420,

Neither sentence is correct as the second part of the sentence requires inversion.

The first sentence also needs a difference verb form:

Only if you have been in the deepest valleys, will/can you know how magnificent it feels to be on the highest mountain.

Only if you were in the deepest valleys, would/could you know how magnificent it feels to be on the highest mountain.

Both are very similar in this particular context. The first example carries a suggestion that the listener may well go to the deepest valleys and experience the feeling - it is a real possibility. The second example is more purely hypothetical, without any suggestion that the trip to the valley could ever take place.

Please take a look at the links I provided in answer to your other question as several of them are relevant here also.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk

I came across the following sets of questions and answers:
1. Why are you late today?
Ans: I'm late because I was stuck in traffic.

2. Why were you late yesterday?
Ans: I was late because I had been stuck in traffic.

3. Why didn't you have breakfast?
I didn't have breakfast because I had gone out with my friends.
Or,
I didn't have breakfast because I went out with my friends.

My question is, what form of the past tense do we use when giving the reason for past actions? Isn't a question and its answer supposed to be in the same tense?

Thanks

Hello Deblina06,

It's not essential to use the past perfect in these contexts. We can use the past simple to show events which happen in a sequence (one after the other) or the past perfect if we wish to emphasise the connection between them in both sentences 2 and 3.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

When we talk about two past actions we use the past perfect for the first action and the simple past for the second action:

I had returned home before she came.
If there is any such rule, is it correct to say
I was late because:
a. I was stuck in traffic
b. I had been stuck in traffic
c. I had been shopping for sometime and lost track of time.
Can I consider "I was late" as the second action and the reason as the first?

Sorry for such a long post, but I find it quite complicated as a non-native speaker.
Thanks

Hello Deblina06,

Your initial 'rule' is not accurate, I'm afraid. When we talk about two actions in the past we normally use the past simple for each action:

I got up. Then I got had a shower. After that I got dressed and then I had a cup of coffee.

These are all sequential actions, each after the last, and we use past simple for them all.

We use the past perfect for the earlier action not because of time but because of the relationship between the two actions. For more information on this, see this page.

All three of your alternatives are possible, depending on the context and the speaker's intention. For example, to compare the two similar alternatives:

I was late because:
a. I was stuck in traffic [here the speaker is probably in the car and realises that they are late already]
b. I had been stuck in traffic [here the speaker is no longer in the car and has arrived late]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!

What is the difference between past continuous and past perfect continuous ? I'm little bit confused.

Thanks in advance.

Hi Sss_,

You can find explanations of these on our past continuous and past perfect pages. If you have any questions after reading them, please don't hesitate to ask us on one of those pages.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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