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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 akhi,

"promoted" is the verb promote in the simple past tense in the active voice. "was promoted" is the same verb, and also in the simple past tense, but in the passive voice. One our active and passive voice page, you can find an explanation of, examples of, and exercises to practise the difference between these two voices.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, I just want to know how to differentiate between "was" and "has"...when to use was and when we can use has?
which one is correct?
eg: 1.He was signed into a law to create a national card payment system.
2.He has signed into a law to create a national card payment system.


Neither of those sentences is correct, I am afraid.  We would use 'was signed' in a passive sentence where we start with the thing that was signed:

The proposal was signed into law to create a national card payment system.

We would use 'has signed' in a present perfect sentence announcing news of the signing.  This sentence would be active and would start with the person doing the signing:

The president has signed the proposal into law to create a national card payment system.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.  You can find more information on the present perfect on this page and this page and more information on passive forms here.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir , my question is - what is the difference between the following tense .
1- past simple & past continuous & past perfect & past perfect continuous.
2- similarly in case of present forms.

Hello yogesh mani tripathi,

I'm afraid that's a question that would need an entire book - or several books - to answer!  In the comments we have space to answer specific question rather than to explain whole chunks of English grammar.  I recommend you work through the verb part of the grammar section on LearnEnglish.  This will take you some time, but it's a very big question which you're asking!

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir
these conditional sentences are correct

1=If I went to a friend's house for dinner, I usually took a bottle of wine or some flowers. I don't do that anymore.
2=When I had a day off from work, I often went to the beach. Now, I never get time off.
3=If the weather was nice, she often walked to work. Now, she usually drives.
4=Jerry always helped me with my homework when he had time. But he doesn't do that anymore.

Hi Learner S,

Yes, those sentences are all correct.  The structure here is similar to a zero conditional [if + present, (then) + present], with the difference that here the 'always true' information is in the past - it was always true but now is not.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir
Could you please explain what is difference between conditional sentences and hypothetical sentences..............Is it the unreal conditional are hypothetical and what should we say about real conditional sentences...........I couldn't find any example of difference between real conditional and unreal conditional sentences.........Could you please explain the difference.............

Hello Learner S,

Something is hypothetical if we are not sure whether or not it is true; something is conditional if it depends on something else.  A sentence may be both hypothetical and conditional, course, and this is often the case and results in the two terms being used interchangeably with some examples.

You can find out more about hypothetical and conditional sentences on this page and this page, and  more about conditional forms on this page and this page.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir
1=If he were French, he would live in Paris.
2=If she were rich, she would buy a yacht.
These are present hypothetical....
The past hypothetical of these sentences
1=If he had been a french,he would have been lived in Paris.
2=If she had been rich,she would have been bought a yacht
Am I right?