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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 :) i'm nabila aged 13y.o from Indonesia
i'm still confused to learn about past tense, and what is the difference between in,on, and at. i've been improve my English skills into my friends at school but it doesn't make any sense. my friends are still use Indonesian in my English courses. Sorry for my bad English, but this page helped me alot:) Thank you so much

Hello Nabila,
Your English is not bad at all!  The words you mention (in, on and at) are all examples of prepositions and you can find quite a few pages on this topic here.  If you type 'prepositions' into the search window on the right then you'll have quite a lot to choose from:
By the way, as you're a teenager perhaps you'll find our sister-site LearnEnglish Teens interesting.  It's got a lot of cool content which I'm sure you'll enjoy.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

My teacher. I have a question...
What is different between these two sentences(meanings)???
1.The car was invented by Carl Benz.
2.The car had invented by Carl Benz.
Please Solve My Problem.     Thanks....

The first is saying Carl Benz invented the car sometime in the past; which makes sense.
The second sentence doesn't make sense....
It would make much more sense it you had put: The car had BEEN invented by Carl Benz. If you don't, the first part of the sentence 'The car had invented..' makes it sound like the car itself was inventing something!! The 'had been' bit sets the sentence up so that you can say it was invented by someone.
'Had been' is basically the same as was. I'd say it is almost interchangeable. 
I was at the supermarket.
I had been at the supermarket. 
You can basically convey the same thing using both sentences.
Alternatively, you could have said 'Carl Benz had invented the car', which makes sense as well.

Hello koga369,
It's great that you want to help some of the other LearnEnglish users with their questions, but I can't agree with everything you've said here, such as 'had been' (a past perfect form) and 'was' (a past simple form) being almost interchangeable!
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi alireza98fatahi,
I don't understand the second sentence that you wrote, but the first one is very clear.
It looks like you are studying the passive voice. Have you seen the explanation of the passive and the explanation of the difference between the active and passive voices? Both of these pages also have exercises so you can practice the passive.
If you have any more questions after working through these pages, please let us know.
Thanks for visiting LearnEnglish!
The LearnEnglish Team

how am i improve my speaking level? in my family no one could speak English so how do i practice and  correct my wrongs?? please give me some ideas :( 

Hi sindujak and welcome to LearnEnglish!
This is one of the questions which we are most often asked.  It can be hard to improve your speaking without someone to practise speaking with, so think about the people you know, friends as well as family.  Do any of them speak English?  Are any of them learning English?  If so, perhaps your could practise with them?  It's a great way to develop fluency in speaking, and to start speaking and responding more confidently.
If you can't find a practise partner, there are other ways.  For example, one very good way to improve is to listen to good examples of natural speech.  I don't know what your English is like or what you need to practise or learn, so I can't recommend particular texts.  However, here on LearnEnglish you can find a lot of things to listen to.  Try some of the different podcasts and programmes there - I'm sure you'll find some really useful things there to help you develop your English generally, and your speaking specifically.  Many of them can be downloaded and listened to offline, and you can also use the transcripts to listen and read, or listen and speak, at the same time.
Good luck with your learning and best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi PeterM
thank you So much  for helping me...i will practice and try to do my best... :)  i did some courses in Sri Lanka British council my level is intermediate 3 so could you recommend any materials for intermediate level student??

Hi again sindujak,
You're welcome, of course!
Your level would correspond with B1 or B2 in the CEFR system.  To find materials for your level, try using the search window on the left.  Type 'CEFR B1' or 'CEFR B2' and you'll see links to materials at those levels.  Try them out and see how helpful they are.
I think I would personally recommend two things for you.  The first is our soap opera, Big City Small World, which is fun and a great way to pick up natural English phrases and pronunciation.  Every episode has exercises and tasks, too, so it's a great way to learn.
The second thing I'd recommend is our Word on the Street series.  This might be a bit more challenging for you, but there is a transcript with each episode to help you, and I think you'll find the topics of this series really interesting.
Best of luck!

The LearnEnglish Team