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.






Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

I've once seen the following sentence.
''At school I disliked the maths teacher because he was always picking/always picked on me."

As my understanding, the past continuous is used here to express annoyance and the past simple describes an action happened in the past.
Is this possible to use "used to" or "would" in this case, since the action is a repeated action in the past?

Thank you in advanced,

Hello toandue,

It's certainly grammatically possible to use both 'would' and 'used to + infinitive' here. The past continuous or past simple form sounds a little more natural to me, particularly if you use 'always' in the sentence. I suppose this is because it would be a little redundant with 'would' or 'used to', though not grammatically incorrect. 

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team,
What's the difference between "used to" and "would" when talking about past habits?

I'd like to know if we use "once" with simple past or present perfect, and why?
For example:
Have you ever gone scuba diving?
No, I haven't. But once I ( went, have gone) snorekling.
Which one is correct and why?
I wrote this example to assure that I don't mean " the number of times I've done something" .. I mean " one day".

Hello Raghad,

This depends on how 'once' is used.

'Once' can mean 'one time' and with this meaning it can be used with the past simple (when the time is defined) or the present perfect (when the time is not defined and is unfinished:

I've been scuba diving once. [in my life]

I went scuba diving once as a child. [a single complete time in the past]


'Once' can also mean 'some time ago' and with this meaning it is used with the past simple.

Once I enjoyed watching westerns but I don't anymore.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

That's really useful. Thanks alot.

Please tell me why I should use, (Q.No. 6) -- 'We had never seen anything quite so extraordinary in our lives.' instead of using -- 'We never saw anything quite so extraordinary in our lives.'

Hello learning,

The sentence describes a state which was true in the past and continued up to another point in the past, when it stopped being true. For this we use the past perfect and the past simple.

You would use the past simple if the time described was finished. In other words, you would use the past simple if (a) the situation did not change and (b) the period of time (the life) was complete. Thus we would use this to talk in a historical sense about someone who is no longer alive:

He never saw anything so extraordinary in his life. [he is no longer alive]


If the person is still alive, we use a present perfect to show an unfinished time up to the moment of speaking:

I've never seen anything so extraordinary in my life. [I am still alive]


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Sir I am a student and I do get when people talk about past events but they use present tense. For example, I watched this video where I saw person was talking about his past experience with someone and he was talking like "I am throwing this party, I throw a lot parties for kids. So this kid walks in". I mean why? When one is talking about any past event he/she should use only past tense. Please help.
Thank you in advance