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



my question is a little twisted one. like we say
i got my house built by masons.
masons built my house
my house was gotten built by me from masons.
my house was got built by masons by me.
is that possible or not

Hello khurramsiddiqui 

i got my house built by masons.

We would say 'I had my house built by masons', meaning that I paid for them to do it for me.

Masons built my house.

This is fine.

My house was gotten built by me from masons.

We would say this without 'gotten'.

My house was got built by masons by me.

This is not a correct sentence.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Tea

Hello Sir,

I would need your help here. This part of the article is confusing me:

"to refer to the present or future in conditions:
He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing they would probably win."

1) Can't these sentences be rephrased as:
He could get a new job if he was really trying.
If Jack played they would probably win

2)Are we talking about impossible conditions here?

3) Can we replace the words 'could' and 'would' with 'can' and 'will', as they are not highlighted in the article as the required past tense words.

4) Will these sentences refer to past if I add 'have' to them, like '..would have probably won' and 'He could have gotten a new...'

5) Could you please explain a bit more on how to phrase such sentences.

Sorry for so many questions but I am finding it really hard to understand this concept!

Hi adtyagrwl3,

1) The two sentences you propose are also correct. The past continuous could be more appropriate in some situations and the past simple more appropriate in others.

2) In most conditional forms, the past is used to express an unreal (which sometimes could mean 'impossible') situation. Please see our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages for more on this.

3) No, 'can' and 'will' cannot generally replace 'could' and 'would', with the notable exception of transactional requests (e.g. 'Could you pass me the salt?' can be rephrased as 'Can you pass me the salt?). See also our can or could and will or would pages.

4) Please see our modals + have page for more on this topic.

5) I think the Conditionals 1 and 2 pages will help with this, but if you have more specific questions after reading them, feel free to ask.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,
I read the articles mentioned above and found most of my doubts cleared. But mixed conditionals caused a new form of confusion. From some other source, I found the following sentences on various forms of mixed conditionals. But that source isn't much reliable. Could you please tell me if these mixed conditionals are correct:

1) If I had won the lottery, I would be rich (past - present)
2) If Darren hadn't wasted his bonus, he would go to Mexico with us (past - future)
3) If I were free, I would have gone to the party (present - past)
4) If Cindy were more creative, we would be sending her on the new ad campaign (present - future)
5) If I weren't going on my business trip, I would have accepted that assignment (future - past)
6) If Seb didn't come with us, everyone would be disappointed. (future - present)

Thanks a lot!

Hi adtyagrwl,

I expect that you could hear native speakers use all of these sentences, and certainly anyone would understand them. If it were me writing, I'd change the first clause of sentence 3 to 'had been free', but otherwise they are correct.

Good work!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher :
may you help me please ?
I Have two question
First :
I watched video appear
girl get out from room catching something and saying "i found it "
i don't know why she didn't say " i have found it "
second :
girl has just finished cookies then run to her grandpa catching Cookies dish and say
I made these for you
why she didn't say " i have made these for you "
this the video link http://www.englishcentral.com/video/23378/a-surprise-visitor

If I am not wrong, two past tense in one sentence is acceptable,
but is this sentence grammatically sound?
'the outcome was known well before the vote was casted.'

Hello grammarmonster,

Yes, two past forms in the same sentence can be correct. Your sentence is correct except for one detail: 'casted' should be 'cast'. This is because 'cast' is irregular: cast, cast, cast (i.e. the bare infinitive, simple past and past participle are all identical).

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,
How could "He said that he is thirsty." is possible when the reported words are not true at the time of reporting ?
In the previous example when I report to his sister John has had a drink , so at the time of reporting he is not thirsty. Therefore "is" should not be possible.
What do you say ?