You are here

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



''Because my rich dad had explained the quadrants to me, I was better able to see that small differences grow into large differences when measured over the years a person spends working.''

I'm confused why the past tense and present tense mixed up in this sentence.( grow, measured, spend)

Hello Danielyong96,

The present tense is used here because the writer is speaking about general truths. 'when measured' is actually part of a reduced clause – the full clause is 'when they are measured'. In this case, 'measured' is part of a passive verb ('is measured'), and this verb is also in the present simple for the same reason.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


When would I use either one of the following sentences in terms of tenses:

Dancing at the top amateur and professional levels, David competed in several Ballroom Championships.
Dancing at the top amateur and professional levels, David has competed in several Ballroom Championships.
David has competed at the top amateur and professional levels. He has participated in several Ballroom Championships.



Hello davidout,

All of those are correct. The participle clause 'Dancing at...' takes its time reference from the second clause, and so can be used with almost any verb form. The last example is simply two present perfect forms in successive clauses, and is perfectly correct.

Each sentence is correct. Which is the one you need depends on the context and the speaker's intention.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The Learn EnglishTeam,
Sorry if I'm asking a silly question! But I'd like to know which one is correct: "simple past" or " past simple" because I've seen both in many texts.

Best Wishes


Hello Mohsen.k77,

Both are used. You can use whichever you prefer.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

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....