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,shouldn't be the simple past in these example? "you'are late..where have you been?" the mother said to her daughter
"I herewith acknowledge that i have received a baggage delivery receipt from sogaerdyn s.p.a...."

Hi manuel24,

The mother could also say 'Where were you?'. By saying 'Where have you been?' she's showing how her worry (anger?) about the daughter's whereabouts began in the past but is still relevant now.

In the second case, the past simple would also be possible, though I'd say the present perfect is more standard in this kind of formulaic statement. As above, it refers to something that happened in the past but is important in the present (see the fourth bullet point on our present perfect page).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
A person stood/was standing behind me. Both the sentence has same meaning or not.
Could I write, 'when I was a kid, a tree was standing infront of our house.
I don't understand when to use simple or continuous form of verb 'stand'. Please explain it. Thanks in advance.

Hello jitu_jaga,

There is nothing unusual about the verb 'stand' here. It is used the same way as any other verb in terms of simple and continuous forms.

The continuous form is used when an action is interrupted by another action (the tree was standing in front of our house when lightning hit it) or when we want to emphasise that an action of a temporary nature (a tree was standing there but we soon knocked it down to make space).

Often the choice of simple or continuous is a choice for the speaker, depending on what they want to emphasise.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,
I understand this but I was doing an exercise from book ' A practical English grammar by Thomas and Martinet'. Here it is ' The detective was following an old man who (wear)_ a black hat.' The answer was , wore/was wearing. How both answers possible here? When I read books I find most of the times authors use stood/was standing interchanably. Earlier you explained me about the verb 'live'.
I live in London(permanent)
I am living in London(temperary)
I worked in that company(permanent)
I was working in that company(temperary).
Do the verbs sit, lie, stand and wear are used in similar fashion.? Please explain it?

Hi jitu_jaga,

 

The form was wearing suggests something which is in progress and is temporary, while the form wore suggests something which is normal or typical.

 

If you say was wearing then you are describing the man's appearance at a particular time. If you say wore then you are describing the man's typical appearance, just as you might say a man who had glasses or a man who had red hair.

 

Please note that we generally provide explanations of the material on our own pages, not material from other publications. We are a small team here and have limited resources, unfortunately.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please let me know whether these sentences give the same meaning or different;
She stayed in London for three months.
She has stayed in London for three months
She has been staying in London for three months.
Thank you.
Regards
Lal

Hello Lal,

The first sentence has a different meaning; the other two are quite similar but differ in emphasis. The first sentence (she stayed) describes finished past time. We know that her time in London finished in the past and that she is not still staying in London now.

The second and third sentences describe an action which began in the past and continues up to the present. The second sentence (has stayed) does not tell us anything about whether she will remain in London in the future. The third sentence (has been staying) suggests that he stay is not finished and that she will continue to stay in London.

You can read more about the present perfect simple (the second sentence) and continuous (the third sentence) on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
We use used to/past simple/ would for repeated action in the past. Is there any subtle differences between these three or between the use of simple past or would for past repeated action and could you explain from where the idea of using 'would' for past repeated action came?

Hi jitu_jaga,

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the history of this use of 'would' to be able to say anything about that.

'used to' means that the action is no longer performed; 'would' doesn't state this explicitly, but puts the focus on the past in a way that suggests it. The past simple is probably the most general of the three, as it has many other uses and without context it could mean any of them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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