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.






I am confused about what is the difference between :
She was shot. and She had been shot.
Both are in the past action.
Please explain it to me. thank you

Hello Cherie Chung,

The first sentence is an example of the past simple, describing a completed event in the past. The second sentence is an example of the past perfect, also describing a completed event in the past, but which has a time reference in the past - in other words, the event happened at some time before another time in the past. Sometimes this is in the sentence itself:

She had been shot before I got there.

[the second time reference is 'I got there' and the past perfect action 'had been shot' happened before this]

Sometimes the time reference is implicit or is in another sentence (i.e. it is in the context of the sentence).

You can read more about the past simple here and the past perfect here.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I want to ask something about grammar.
Can I say I have been worked in maintenance department in the past? or I had worked in maintenance department? Which one is correct? If both are wrong, I would like to know the correct answer. Thank you.

Hello pickygirl,

If you're describing your work history, the simple past ('I worked in the maintenance department') is the form that works in most situations. The past perfect ('had worked') is also possible, but only when talking about another past time, e.g. 'I had worked in the maintenance department, so I knew a lot about the machines.'

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Could we use these structures in future in the past form?
e.g. 1. We hoped we should have done our homework by midday. 2. He told us he would have been working on the plant for 30 years next December. 3. He was planning how he would be sipping cocktail on his vacation.
Thanks in advance!

Hello blink-182,

It's very hard to give an answer to some of these without knowing the full context. Sentence 2, for example, is theoretically possible but highly unlikely - it would require a very specific context in which the speaker no longer works at the plant and is imagining that if he did still work there then at a point in the future, while still an employee, he would have been working there for 30 years. That is why we tend not to answer questions like this which ask if a certain use of a form is theoretically possible.

The first sentence is not correct. We would use 'would' here, not 'should'. 'Should' refers to how the speaker sees a particular state or activity and this is up to the speaker; there is no 'hope' involved in 'should'. 'Would', on the other hand, refers to a fact rather than a perspective, and so can be used with 'hope'.

The third sentence is possible and would be used in a narrative context to describe future plans/ambitions.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

"The minister defended his government decision saying the government will always act if there was any violation of environment laws in the state?"
Is this sentence correct? Dont you think would should come instead of will?

Hello innocentashish420,

The sentence can be written with either 'would' or 'will'. 'Would' may be more likely, but we can use 'will' to emphasise that what the minister says is still true now.

I would suggest 'his government's decision' (with the apostrophe) would be better.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Sir
This example: Every one was excited. The party would be fun that means he predicates the party was fun and I read this example too when you started learning english you knew you would be fluent one day. That means he studied or not.
Thank you, Sir

Hello sunrisereham,

In the sentence 'When you started learning English you know you would be fluent one day', it does imply that the person studied English. I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand what the rest of your question is.

By the way, when you ask questions about a sentence, could you please put the sentences inside inverted commas (' ')? That way it's clear what the sentence is.


Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team