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 bimsara,

In the sentence you quote ('I was born in 1992') we can see 'born' as an adjective or as part of a passive verb form, and I have seen it described as both (and grammarians arguing about who is correct!).  It is ambiguous, but in my opinion it is most helpful to see it as a passive form; if it were an adjective then we would be able to use other verbs than 'be' before it.  In fact, I believe the active form ('bear - bore - born/borne) was used in the same context in the past, though it is no longer used today.

We can use 'to + infinitive' after the verb 'be', but it has a future meaning, used to describe (formal or official) arranged events in the future, or to give orders or firm instructions:

I am to start college in September.

They are to be home at 10.00 and no later!

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone!
(given,done,used.......) these are past participle verbs.we normally don't use these verbs alone.But i have seen these three verbs used alone.as an example 'we offer a discount, payments done on or before.......' is it correct to use it like that? also i have seen that these verbs describe as an adjective .what is the meaning of this?
Thanks for your help.

Hi bimsara,

You are correct in saying that given, done and used are past participles of verbs, but a past participle by itself does not act as a verb. It is also true that past participles are often used as adjectives, and that is in fact the case in the sentence you mention.

This might be easier to see with a more common adjective formed from a past participle, for example frightened. In the sentence "Dogs have always frightened me", has frightened is the verb, whereas in "I am frightened of dogs", frightened is an adjective used after the verb be.

This is explained in some detail on our adjectives: -ed and -ing page. I'd suggest you read that page, and then if you have any further questions about this, we'd be happy to answer them there!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone!
'Married' I have learnt this as an adjective.'Get' also i have learnt this as an link verb by this website.Now I want to know can we say 'when are you getting married'. Is 'getting' also a link verb? can we use two link verbs in a one sentence?
Thank you for your help!

Hello bimsara,

You are correct that 'married' is an adjective (it is a participle form used as an adjective) and that 'get' is a link verb.  Link verbs can be simple or continuous, just like other verbs, and the 'getting' in your example is simply an example of the continuous form.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

Hello!
Sorry for ask this again.can't we say 'when are you married?', what's the difference of these two sentences?
Thank you.

Hi bimsara,

The link verbs be and get have different meanings: be married is typically used in the present simple to ask about someone's marital status, whereas get married talks about the change in marital status, for example, when or where the wedding was. (Before an adjective, get usually means become.)

Perhaps what you meant with your question "When are you married?" is "When did you get married?" , which is a question about date of the wedding.

Does that help clarify it for you?

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mr,
I don't no why when I read the grammar it looks to easy for me to understand, but when I want to answer some questions, most of my answering is wrong.
Can you help me on this?
 
 
 

Hello amra1234,

I think what you're describing is a normal part of learning.  When we look at explanations things should be clear if the explanations are well written.  However, when we have to put them into practice things become more complex: we must consider the rules in a more complex context and work out that context before we can apply the rules.  It isn't easy - if it were, then learning a language would be no more than reading and memorising the rules, and we all know it is a lot more difficult than that!  So my advice to you is to not be too concerned that you make mistakes.  Remember that these are a normal part of the learning process and, with time and perseverance, you will make progress and make fewer and fewer mistakes.

Good luck!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello,
i am  confused about question number 6,i used to think we can use "have never seen"   because the effect until now we never see !! can you please correct me? . thanks .

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