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



Could you say, what tense/tenses I should use in these two sentences:
1) He (sit) on the bench for two hours, when he saw a pretty woman;
2) He (sit) on the bench for two hours, and then he saw a pretty woman.
Thanks in advance!

Hello Daniel157,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers for questions like this as we don't want to do users' homework or tests for them. These pages will be helpful to you, I think:







The LearnEnglish Team

I assure you it's not the case! I just wanted to make sure wheather my professor is right or not. She said in the first sentence I could use Past Perfect Continuous (had been sitting), but in the second – I had to use only Past Simple (sat). Is this right? Is there such a rule? Or I can still use Past Perfect Continuous in the second sentence, since there is "for two hours" which emphasizes the process?
Thank you!

Hello Daniel157,

Context is crucial here. The forms suggested by your teacher are the most likely here and without any context to guide us those are the forms I would choose. The past simple suits the second sentence because the word 'then' indicates a sequence of actions and so we can see the sitting as something unitary and complete, as opposed to an ongoing process. However, it is not impossible to image a context in which other forms would be possible, including perfective and continuous forms. It's very hard to exclude all options in a decontextualised sentence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there, I am writing an article about my recent trip.

I first wrote "After three hours ride, we arrived at the resort." Then, I want to describe the lobby and its surroundings.
Which one(s) of the followings is(are) proper?

1. The lobby was so beautiful. There are trees around it. And there is pond in front of it.
2. The lobby was so beautiful. There were trees around it. And there was pond in front of it.
3. The lobby is so beautiful. There are trees around it. And there is pond in front of it.

Thank you for your comments.



Hello MTeng06,

I would encourage you to try to meet with your teacher to get some help with these kinds of questions, but I would choose the second one because it's in the past tense. Your first sentence uses the past and so I would recommend continuing with the past.

By the way, a lobby is an indoor space, so it's a bit strange to mention trees and a pond near it. I would recommend using the word 'entrance' or something similar instead.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there, are both of the following sentences correct?
I lived in Rome for 17 years but I barely went traveling in Italy when I was there
I lived in Rome for 17 years but I wasn’t going traveling a lot in Italy when I was there

Hello Robert157,

Both of those sentences are grammatically correct. They may or may not be the sentences you need, of course - that will depend upon the context and your intended meaning.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Also how would you say it if u were asked the same question ?

Hi Peter,
Thanks a lot for your comment. Which one will be better if i intend to explain why I dont know of many places in italy although I’m from there and i dont enjoy going travelling ? I’m just asking because people are always surprised when i say i’ve nevEr been in supposedly famous cities in italy they’ve gone to on holidays