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 teacher :-)
i'm studying the past tense, but i don't understand these cases:

hypotheses and wishes(can you explain this cases? )
what's wishes?

Hello davide32,

I'd suggest you look up 'wish' (which is the singular of 'wishes') in the dictionary so that you can get a good sense for what it means, but basically a wish is something we want, and in this case, refers to things we want that we see as unlikely or impossible to obtain. In the third example sentence ('I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month'), I can't change what I did in the past, but I'm expressing how I wish I had acted last month.

You might find it useful to look at our Conditionals 1 and Conditionals 2 pages, where you'll see the past tense used in a similar way in the second and third conditional structures. Please take a look and then let us know if you have any further questions.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

thank you teacher ,

i have learned another things today :-)

the cambrige dictionary is done for to be used :-)

the site there isn't in italian language and for me is difficult but i like all here.

Hi, we know that "had to" is a past form of the "have to" but sometimes i see this form as well which is : He had had to do sth - how this form can be understood and please explain what does it really mean to use such kind of grammatic form?? how can we translate this form ? do we need to understand this as Past perfect or what?? if not please explain its meaning Thank you very much in advance - See more at: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/past-ten...

Hello Source,

'had had' is indeed the past perfect form of the verb 'have'. The first 'had' is the auxiliary verb 'have' in the simple past, which is what is used to form the past perfect, and the second 'had' is the past participle of the main verb 'have'.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I want some explanation there is not any explanation in the provided link about my question ... Please give some explanation if possible

Hello Everyone, could someone help me? I need to practice Conditional Sentences With Mixed Time Frames for example
If I had been working at the restaurant last ight, I would have waited on your table.
I don't know how to write this kind of sentence, I know that each one depend for situation, time, but I am confused. help me ;( thanks

Differnce among these three sentences.......
1.it had occured to me that i forgot ur birthday..
2.it occured to me that i forgot ur birthday...
3.it has occured to me that i forgot ur birthday..
Thanx in advance......

Hello videsh,

The difference is the verb form (tense and aspect) used in each sentence.

The first sentence is an example of a past perfect form [had + past participle] and you can find an explanation of when this is used here.

The first sentence is an example of a past simple form [the second form of the verb] and you can find an explanation of when this is used here.

The first sentence is an example of a present perfect form [has or have + past participle] and you can find an explanation of when this is used here.

I hope those links are helpful.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team