Level: intermediate

Past events and situations

We use the past simple to talk about:

  • something that happened once in the past:

The film started at seven thirty.
We arrived home before dark.

  • something that was true for some time in the past:

Everybody worked hard through the winter.
We stayed with our friends in London.

When we talk about something that happened several times in the past, we use the past simple:

Most evenings, we stayed at home and watched DVDs.
Sometimes they went out for a meal.

or used to:

Most evenings, we used to stay at home and watch DVDs.
We used to go for a swim every morning.

or would:

Most evenings, he would take the dog for a walk.
They would often visit friends in Europe.

We do not normally use would with stative verbs. We use the past simple or used to instead:

He would looked much older than he does now. (NOT would look)
We would used to feel very cold in winter. (NOT would feel)

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We use the past continuous:

  • for something that happened before and after a specific time in the past:

It was just after ten. I was watching the news on TV.
At half-time we were losing 1–0.

  • for something that happened before and after another action in the past:

He broke his leg when he was playing rugby.
She saw Jim as he was driving away.

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The past in the past

We use the past perfect when we are looking back from a point in the past to something earlier in the past:

Helen suddenly remembered she had left her keys in the car.
When we had done all our shopping, we caught the bus home.
They wanted to buy a new computer, but they hadn't saved enough money.
They would have bought a new computer if they had saved enough money.

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The past and the present

We use the present perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

We have lived here since 2017. [and we still live here]
I have been working at the university for over ten years.

  • for something that happened in the past but is important in the present:

I can't open the door. I've left my keys in the car.
Jenny has found a new job. She works in a supermarket now.

Be careful!
We do not use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a finished past time:
yesterday last week/month/year in 2010 when I was younger  etc.

I have seen that film yesterday.
We have just bought a new car last week.
When we were children we have been to California.

but we can use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a time which is not yet finished:

today this morning/week/year now that I am eighteen   etc.

Have you seen Helen today?
We have bought a new car this week.

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The future in the past

When we talk about the future from a time in the past we use:

  • would as the past tense of will:

He thought he would buy one the next day.
Everyone was excited. The party would be fun.

  • was/were going to:

John was going to drive and Mary was going to follow on her bicycle.
It was Friday. We were going to set off the next day.

It was September. Mary was starting school the next week.
We were very busy. Our guests were arriving soon and we had to get their room ready.

The past with modal verbs

could is the past tense of can:

You could get a good meal for a pound when I was a boy.

would is the past tense of will:

He said he would come but he forgot.

We use may have, might have and could have to show that something has possibly happened in the past:

I'll telephone him. He might have got home early.
She's very late. She could have missed her train.

We use should have as the past form of should:

I didn't know he was ill. He should have told me.
You shouldn't have spent so much money.

We use would have and could have to talk about something that was possible in the past but did not happen:

I could have gone to Mexico for my holiday but it was too expensive.
I would have called you, but I had forgotten my phone.
They would have gone out if the weather had been better.

Comments

Hello again,
I want to ask about using past perfect 'had'
Example: 'I had read'
1. Is this grammatically correct without adding time reference?

Hello Aoll212,

The sentence is correct grammatically speaking, but it needs a context to make sense. That could be provided by an explicit time reference or by the context of other information around this sentence. The past perfect always refers to a time before another event in the past, so we need to have another event for it to make sense.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, i just wanted to know in a letter if i am tellinghappened in the the past like for example..

Five days ago, the patient complained a heache or has complained headache? But she is still experiencing headache at the time of writing a letter. I am confused. Pls help me.

Hello luveee13,

When we have a finished time reference ('give days ago') we do not use the present perfect. The compaint was in the past and is finished and so we use the past simple. If the action or event is not finished then the present perfect is used. For example, the patient's pain has not ended so you would say 'She has had headaches for five days' or 'The headaches have been hurting her for five days'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good day our online english tutors,
This is a present perfect continuous tense, pls. help me again.
'Hello, I just wanna make sure if your the one who have been attending Sir x's class since then?'
Is this grammatically correct? Thx

Hello Aoll212,

There are one or two problems with the sentence. The correct form would be:

Hello, I just want to check if you're the one who has been attending Mr. x's class since then?'

 

However, we would only use 'then' if the time has just been mentioned. More likely would be to give a time (e.g. '...since last week').

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thx, noted.
I'm also just checking if I did it right using 'who' in the sentence and I am correct on that part.

on the other hand, I am not sure about the exact time reference to use(either since+ a couple of months ago or early months this year or from the early period of the class, thus, I used 'since+then' without knowing the thorough meaning of it, oopsie my bad.) but I learnt about using 'since+then' from you guys hehe.

" Samantha hadn’t had time to explain her side of the story. " it looks strange to me.... why this sentence having hadn't and had both

Hello Devesh Raj,

This is an example of a past perfect form. The construction for the past perfect is:

had + past participle

For example: had gone, had looked, hadn't eaten.

In your example the main verb is 'have' and its past participle is 'had'. Therefore we have hadn't had.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team,

I am confused about the proper tense for appraisal writing and hope that you would kindly give me some advice.

My previous boss told me that present tense should be used for general description of appraisee's performance even if the appraisal period was in the past. However, my present boss considered that past tense should be used under all circumstances for past appraisal period.

Allow me to provide some sentences in question:
1. "When she was asigned of ad hoc duties, she completed the tasks timely with good quality of output." While it happened during the appraisal period, can it be interpreted as a general description of the appraisee's performance (because the description is also true to her present performance) and hence present tense be used?
2. "Miss Chan is a bright officer. She has good knowledge about her work." Is present tense the correct tense be used for comment on appraisee in an appraisal report?

Thanks a lot!

Regards,
Evachi

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