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

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Past tense 2

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Comments

Hello Teacher,
What is the difference between below sentences:

1) The volcanic ash closed several airports.
2) The volcanic ash had closed several airports.

Hello rishi,

The verb in sentence 1 is in the past simple tense and the verb in 2 is in the past perfect tense. If you look in the English Grammar box on the right under 'past tense', you'll see links to past simple and past perfect pages, where you'll find detailed explanations and examples of these forms.

I think those pages should answer your question, but if you have any further questions, please let us know.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir,

I have been through suggested details, but i still insist your valuable response.

Regards

Hello rishi1234567,

We use the past simple when an action happens in the past. We use the past perfect when an action happens in the past and is before another event, which it influences in some way. It is the same relationship as the present perfect and the present:

  • We use the present perfect for an action before the present which influences a present action or state in some way.
  • We use the past perfect for an action before the present which influenced a past action or state in some way.

The second sentence does not make sense unless there is another event in the past referred to in another sentence.

 

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, could you please clear my concept about past tense actually I'm very confused with these verbs .. When we use was, were, did, ed form like decided and I read when we use was after this we use base form like was flood but I heard in news they use word was flooded so can you explain I'm which condition we use ed forms after was ..

Hello MONAD ASSASI,

I'm afraid I can't provide explanations of multiple forms in the comments sections here - I would have to write a book to cover all of that! I recommend you use the links in the grammar section, especially the part about verbs, to research these areas.

Perhaps one thing that I can clarify is the difference between 'flooded' and 'was flooded'. Both are past forms, but 'flooded' is an active past simple form, while 'was flooded' (or 'were flooded') is a passive past simple form. You can find more about active and passive forms here.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you sir for reply .. Can you please tell when and where we use above verb . One more question how we decided in past tense we should use was or did ?? Any specific rules in english for using this did or that? And which condition we can't use use both and we use only active form of verb in tense ???

Hello Monad Abbasi,

You can see examples of how 'flood' and 'flooded' are used by searching for them in our dictionary - see the handy Cambridge Dictionaries Online search box on the right.

As for the past tenses, did you read the explanation above? It is an overview of the different past tenses, and then in the English Grammar menu on the right side of this page, if you click on 'past tense', you'll see there are explanations of each of these three tenses there, e.g. past simple. I believe that these explanations will answer all of your questions, but if not, please feel free to ask us again on one of those pages. Please make your question as specific as possible - we're not able to write lengthy responses.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, teachers.

Is it right to use past simple for stating an activity that you currently see?
For example : (He dragged the chair and sat in front of me.)

Or should i use the present simple instead? Thank you. :)

Hi Yeolanda,

Probably not, though it really depends on what you want to communicate. If you are speaking about the action as it is happening, the most typical form would be the present continuous. Please note, however, that in this sentence there are two separate actions, as you can't drag a chair and sit in it at the same time. As the actions are separate, there is a sequence, i.e. one happens before the other. So you could say, for example, 'He dragged the chair and is sitting in it' but not 'He is dragging the chair and sitting in it'.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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