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

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Past tense 2

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Comments

Hi, i would like to understand the difference between I did my home work, I had done my home work and I have done my home work

Hello Tim,

These tenses (past simple, past perfect and present perfect) are explained in some detail on our talking about the past page. Please take a look there and then if you have any more specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, I hope you are fine and fit. I have a question that I want to ask from you. What is difference between these two sentences? I has been waiting for them for 2 hours. And I was waiting for them for 20 minutes.

Hello nadarali1996,

These sentences have different time references and a context is required to understand what those time references are.

The correct form of the first sentence is 'I have been waiting for them for 2 hours'. We use this when the waiting began in the past and continues up to the present - you are still waiting as you speak.

In the second sentence the waiting is all in the past; you are not waiting now and are telling someone about a past event. Generally we use 'was waiting' rather than 'waited' when the action was interrupted by another action. For example, we might say 'I was waiting for them for two hours before they arrived', where their arrival interrupts the waiting. However, without knowing the context of the sentence we can only guess at this.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So,as I have understood it,if I wanted to emphasize that she had not done her work by some moment in the past I would choose Past P.,and if I want to emphasize that her work still is not done(at present moment) then I choose Present P., and Past Simple (She told...) does't influence on my choice(Past P. or Present P.) ?

Hello Slava,

I wouldn't say the past simple doesn't influence the tense in the second clause, but it certainly doesn't determine it automatically. The two different forms express different meanings, i.e. refer to different times.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks again,Kirk.

Sorry for not placing comment on quite the right page!

Hello again!
In one of your comments I saw such example:
'She told me that she has not done her work.'
I am a little bit confused,- shouldn't there be Past Perfect here instead of Present Perfect (She told me that she had not done her work) ,since as I see it the fact of her not having done her work refers to the past,i.e. to the time period limited by the moment when she told me this in the past? Or I am wrong in my assumptions?

Hello Slava B,

Both the past perfect and the present perfect are possible here. If the action being described is still current then no tense shift is required. For example, take a look at these:

She said she loved me. [Perhaps she still loves me, perhaps she does not - we do not know]

She said she loves me. [She still loves me]

 

If you say 'has not done' then the situation is still current and has not been remedied - the work has still not been done. If you say 'had not done' then we understand that the situation is no longer current because the work has been completed in the meantime by someone.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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