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Past tense

Level: intermediate

Past tense

There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The past tense in English is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Past simple: I worked
Past continuous: I was working
Past perfect: I had worked
Past perfect continuous: I had been working

We use these forms:

  • to talk about the past:

He worked at McDonald's. He had worked there since July.
He was working at McDonald's. He had been working there since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.

This use is very common in wishes:

I wish it wasn't so cold.

and in conditions with if:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing, they would probably win.

For hypotheses, wishes and conditions in the past, we use the past perfect:

It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn't spent so much money last month.
I would have helped him if he had asked.

and also to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:

Excuse me, I was wondering if this was the train for York.
I just hoped you would be able to help me.

Past tense 1


Past tense 2



please help

Hi , I have a question regarding two of the exercises.
In the sentence "If she could see him now, she'd be so proud." why is it considered as past tense is used to describe the present or future in a conditional statement. No matter how I look at it I can't figure out how it is past tense , to me it seems more like a hypothetical statement.
Similarly, could you explain how "If you moved abroad, you might never see them again." is considered a hypothetical statement and not a conditional talking about the future? Thank you so much

Hi Amir-A,

In conditional sentences, past forms can be used to describe present or future actions or states which are unlikely or impossible. The key is whether or not a condition is considered likely/possible or unlikely/impossible. For example, both of these sentences describe the same future condition:

If it rains tomorrow we'll have to stay indoors. [the speaker thinks rain is likely]

If it rained tomorrow we'd have to stay indoors. [the speaker does not expect rain]

For more information on conditional and hypothetical forms see these pages: here, herehere and here.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I tried to use past perfect to wrote this sentence,but I'm not sure it true or fault.
I wish you can helped me if you had time.
"Could I brought these chocolate to camping if you had agreed."

Hello Ice,

I'm afraid that sentence isn't grammatically correct. I'd be happy to help you make it correct, but I don't understand exactly what you want to say. If you're talking about a camping trip that already happened that you didn't bring chocolate to, you could use a third conditional construction here: 'Could I have brought this chocolate camping if you had agreed?'

If you mean something else, please explain it a bit and we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ice,

Could you please give a specific example? It's difficult to answer such a general question without knowing more specifically what you mean.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

1) Sir can/could you Please help me.
Which form should be used present/past, for a request.

2) Jessica would chastise him
Jessica would have chastised him.
Here Jessica is his daughter who is expired.

Hello suryachaitanya,

In general, both the past and present can be used for requests.

'would have chastisted' is the appropriate form for someone who has passed away but whom you think would have done something now. See our Conditionals 2 page for more on this.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

hello teacher

please If My country is Egypt and I wane take about England

please what is the difference between

- I was living in England
-I lived in England
-I have lived in England
-I have been lived in England
-I have been living in England

Hello Moka 18,

We try to answer questions in the comments section where possible but the questions need to be concrete and precise; I'm afraid it's not possible for us to explain multiple verb forms in this way. It would require pages of explanation! However, we do have pages of explanation on these forms with examples and descriptons. You can find them in this grammar section. Your sentences are examples of (in order):

past continuous

past simple

present perfect

present perfect continuous

'I have been lived in England' is an incorrect sentence.

You can find information on each of these in the grammar sections here and here.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team