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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



Can u teach me to learn english grammar?

when to use "had been" or "have been" or "has been"

Hello rasm!

That's a big question! Have/has been are present perfect. You can read about them on our present perfect page. The past perfect is usually only used when we tell stories; it is not as important as present perfect.

Hope that helps!

Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Adam
Would appreciate your help regarding the below:
which is correct?
I thought I should ask if u were busy? 
I thought I should ask if u are  busy?
Thanks n Regards

Hi.Can you help me? I just want to someone explain me amout Quiz in Montenegro,thanks.:)

Hi Adam
I would be grateful if you explain this:
"You are studying at an International College for a few months"
"You have been studying at an International College for a few months"
Which of the above statements are correct?I read the first statement in a few books.Is it grammatically correct?Kindly explain.

Both of those sentences are good English, but they refer to slightly different time frames. In the first, the total length of your studies is a few months. In the second, the time between the start of your studies and now is a few months.
The first sentence uses the present continuous and the second uses the present perfect continuous
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Adam
Thank you for the explanation but the meaning still remains a bit ambiguous for me as I still dont understand fully how can I use them in same/different contexts?.
What I understand from the above reply is that the first sentence conveys that the course has been finished while the second sentence tells that its still going on.Am I correct?If not could you please explain that?
I checked the links recommended by you but really didnt understand the point!Kindly explain.

Both sentences suggest that the course is still continuing, although it's possible that the second could be used at the end of the course. The main difference between them is the meaning of 'for a few months' as I wrote in my previous comment.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Adam
The sentence below is an example of conditionals but looking at the structure I doubt if it is grammatically correct or not as the first part suggests the imaginary/unlikely future and the second suggests the past(if I'm correct).I read this sentence somewhere but really could not understand if it is grammatically correct or not.I even checked the mixed conditionals section of yours but couldnt find anythng of the sort.Could you please help and explain its meaning in terms of tense?Is it an example of good english?
If state had 12 ministers instead of two, we'd have been wooed.
Looking forward to the reply.