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

I have a questions about the following phrase:

I would need the initial letter by which this response you had been produced

is the above phrase equal to say

I would need the initial letter by which this response had been produced to you.

Can the "you" in the subordinate phrase be replaced by "to you" at the end and keep the meaning of the phrase? If it does, where is the grammatical rule that explain this.

Is the first phrase more formal than the second?

Thanks!

Hi Mayela,

I'm afraid that the first sentence that you quote doesn't make sense to me. In the phrase 'by which this response you had been produced', there are two subjects ('this response' and 'you') of the verb 'had been produced', and these two subjects are irreconcilable, i.e. they can't go together. Saying 'to you' changes the grammar a bit, but the sentence still doesn't make sense to me.

I'm sorry!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Everybody worked hard through the winter.

Everybody work hard during the winter.

What's the difference between these sentences?

Hello Thereal,

The first sentence has a past simple form ('worked') and is about a past time. The second sentence has an imperative form ('work) and is a command or an order referring to the present or to future time.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to know what is the difference between 'rained' and 'was raining'.

For example:

Last weekend I stayed at home because it rained.

Last weekend I stayed at home because it was raining.

Are both forms correct?

Thanks

Hello CarmenPC,

Both 'it rained' (past simple tense) and 'it was raining' are possible in this sentence, although they have different meanings. Which one would be used depends on the context. In these sentences, 'it was raining' takes us more into the moment when the speaker decided to stay home (in Spanish, 'llovía'), whereas 'it rained' presents a more finished perspective on that time (in Spanish, 'llovió').

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team,

I've got a problem with question 8.

It is 'They find it difficult to forget; they ______ tremendous hardship in the war.'

I thought the most appropriate answer could be 'had suffered' because their suffering is actually the cause for their inability to forget. But the answer is 'suffered'. Could you please explain it?

Thanks in advance,

Eng.Learner

Hello Eng.Learner,

In this sentence, the reference point is the present (in 'they find it difficult...', the verb 'find' is in the present), and so the past simple is the correct form. If the sentence said 'The found it difficult' (i.e. with a past reference point), then the past perfect would be the correct form for the answer.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! everyone
inr the example above of using past tense for "When we are talking about something that happened several times in the past we use"
in this example 1. Most evenings we stayed at home and watched DVDs and
2. Most evenings we used to stay at home and watch DVDs
I'm just curious why "ed" added in the word watch from example one and in example two not?
thanks

Hi Oscas Po,

The form 'used' here, referring to habitual actions or states in the past, is followed by an infinitive, not a past form:

I used to be a mechanic.

We used to visit her every weekend.

In your example 'stay' is an infinitive, not a past form.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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