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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



hi .pls help me about this sentence .
"what book made jenny cry?
why does 'cry' not in past tense ?

Hello cuulin,

The structure here is 'make someone do something', where 'do' is the base form/infinitive without 'to' and the tense is shown by the form of 'make'. For example:

He made her wait in his office. ['made' = past; 'wait' =  base form]

She always makes us work hard. ['makes' = present; 'work' = base form]

What book made Jenny cry? ['made' = past; 'cry' = base form]

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi LearnEnglish Team,

I have little difficulty in using main verb with helping verb 'did'.

Example Sentences are down below,

1.i did + learn english.
2.i + learn english.

is there any difference between second part of these two sentences in sound?

in which sentence verb 'learn' retains its cent-percent or complete verb form?

i believe in first sentence 'learn' has some form of 'participle form' with 'verb form'.

or does it have noun form,because, in the below sentence

1.i did learning.

Here learning is a gerund,which is nothing but form of noun...

likewise in this sentence ,'i did learn english',is 'learn english' a noun form of verb form...

i would like to summarise my understanding with questions below,

in first sentence, is 'learn english' part

1.a verb in noun form,or
2.a verb in participle form,or
3.Just a noun...?

please correct me if am wrong..


Best Regards,

i dont know much about english .... kindly guide from i should start learn english ......i mean which lesson ... im not native english speaker....

Hello Touqeer younas,

I'd recommend you read the advice under 'How do I get started?' on our Help page. It would also be a good idea to spend some time exploring the site using the menu at the top of the screen (Home, Listen & Watch, etc.).

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for the explanation, Kirk.


Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

Which of the following sentences is correct?

1. We saw a suspicious looking man climb over the fence?
2. We saw a suspicious looking man climbed over the fence?

What is the explanation for the choice?

Hello Mary,

The first sentence is correct (though 'suspicious looking' should be 'suspicious-looking') and the second is not. Verbs of perception such as 'see' are usually followed by non-finite verb forms such as the bare infinitive ('climb') or an -ing form ('climbing'). Using an -ing form implies that the action is seen as it is in progress, whereas the infinitive form indicates that the action was seen completed.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence grammatically correct?
"In 1418, what was by far the grandest building project in Florence had still to be completed."
If it is correct, what tense is this?

Hello ria24,

This sentence is correct except for the position of 'still'. 'had to be completed' is the form 'have to + verb' (indicating obligation or necessity) in the simple past. Here, 'have' is followed by a passive infinitive ('be completed'). Normally, adverbs are not placed in the middle of this construction; the best location here is before it: '... in Florence still had to be completed'.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team