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

Hello, is this sentence correct?

"This morning I also felt my right arm was going to fall because it started become heavy"

Hello Verony,

That sentence needs one correction to make it grammatically correct: you need to add 'to' between 'started' and 'become'.  However, I cannot say whether or not the sentence makes sense without knowing the context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir,
when we talk about the general ability in the past, that time we could use "used to" in sentence.for example
1. he could speak fluent French when he was 5.
2. he used to speak fluent French when he was 5.
could we use "used to" for past general ability?

Hello akhi,

We can use 'used to' for general ability in the past, but it must be something which is no longer true:

I used to speak fluent French (but I cannot do so now).

However, remember that 'used to' is not used for individual actions, but for past states or repeated actions.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir,
thanks for your swift reply, could you give me some examples on this topic. it would be easy for me to clarified my doubt. because sir 'could' is also used in general ability in the past and it also no longer true.
pls clear my doubt sir. I think I'm confused.
thanks

Hello akhi,

There is some overlap between the uses of could and used to - both are used to refer to general ability in the past, but as Peter mentions, used to has an additional shade of meaning: that what is said is no longer true. could is also used to talk about past general ability that may no longer be true, but the verb could doesn't indicate that it's no longer true. It only indicates that it was true at that time (it makes no statement about the present).

Your example sentences are good ones - both indicate that he was able to speak French - the only difference is that the second has the additional meaning Peter indicated. If you want to write a few more sentences and ask us about them, please feel free to.

By the way, for explanations of the different uses of could, please take a look at our can, could and could have and can and could pages - you'll see there are really a lot of different uses.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir,
I have confusion in these sentence. please clear my doubt.
1. they would have bought a new computer if they had saved enough money.
2. they could have bought a new computer if they had saved enough money.
could we use "could or would" in same sentence for same meaning?

Hello akhi,

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the meaning is different.  The first sentence (with 'would') means that their plan or intention was to buy the computer and it was only prevented by their lack of money.  The second sentence (with 'could') tells us that a lack of money made buying a computer impossible - but it does not tell us for sure if they would have bought it or not.  We can imagine a conversation like this:

A:  They could have bought a computer if they had saved enough money.

B:  Even if they had saved enough money, they wouldn't have bought a computer.  They would have gone on holiday instead.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir,
as per your reply, 'would' used where we talking only for particular intention or plan about the past. on the other hand 'could' used where we talking about the possibilities could have happened or there has more than one possibility or plan could have happened in past.
thanks

hello,
i am  confused about question number 6,i used to think we can use "have never seen"   because the effect until now we never see !! can you please correct me? . thanks .

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