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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



Hello orton,

Although we often shift the verb's time reference back in reported speech, this is not always the case. Sometimes the verb can stay in the original form. For example, both of these are grammatically correct:

She said she loves me. [she still loves me now]

She said she loved me. [she loved me then, we don't know about now]

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


what is the difference between following two sentences
1.she had been working since july.
2.she has been working since july.

And which one of the following sentences is correct

1) If i were playing, .
2) If i was playing.

Hello bharathkumarreddy,

The first sentence is an example of the past perfect continuous while the second is an example of the present perfect continuous. For explanations of when to use each of these take a look at these pages:

past perfect

present perfect

perfective aspect

present perfect simple and continuous

With regard to your second question, 'were' (the first option) used to be the correct form. However, in modern English both 'was' and 'were' are acceptable.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to know, what is the difference between this two sentences
1. She had been gone ten years
2. She had gone ten years
Plus, I 'm confused why "had been gone" is used and can be used

Hello Danielyong96,

Although the sentences look similar, they in fact have different verbs in them. The first sentence is an example of [be + past participle/adjective], while the second sentence is an example of 'go' in the past perfect. We can see this if we change them into simple past forms:

1. She was gone ten years.

2. She went ten years.

The first sentence you quote is fine; it means she was not 'here' (where the speaker is).

The second sentence needs more information for it to make sense, such as a destination of some kind: 'She had gone away from her home for ten years'.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

that means is the first sentence, gone=adjective instead of a verb, right?

Hello Daniel,

That's correct!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team


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,
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 ..