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, is this sentence correct?

"This morning I also felt my right arm was going to fall because it started become heavy"

Hello Verony,

That sentence needs one correction to make it grammatically correct: you need to add 'to' between 'started' and 'become'.  However, I cannot say whether or not the sentence makes sense without knowing the context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, how to use if to ask question about an event happening in the past?

For example, lets say Sarah took the kids to school and Brad was not at home at that time. If i were to ask Brad who took the kids to school using "if" (because I thought Brad was the one taking them to school), which one is correct?

Brad, if you were not at home, who took the kids to school?

Brad, if you had not been at home, who took the kids to school?

Brad, if you had not been at home, who could have taken the kids to school?

I am getting confused using past tense and past perfect when it involves conditionals if. Thanks in advance

Hi Corsair777,

Brad, if you were not at home, who took the kids to school? - this is correct

Brad, if you had not been at home, who took the kids to school? - this is incorrect; you could use instead 'who would have taken' in the second clause, making the sentence about a hypothetical past (a 'third conditional', if you prefer).

Brad, if you had not been at home, who could have taken the kids to school? - this is correct and is a variation on the 'third conditional' sentence mentioned above.

I think you'll find the information you are looking for on this page and this page.

In English the two clauses of a conditional must agree in terms of whether they describe a real or hypothetical event; the tenses used must be logical in terms of the sequence and time of events.  For example, your first sentence is correct because both clauses are about real events (Brad was not at home and somebody did take the kids to school) and the tenses are appropriate for past finished events.  Your second sentence is not correct because the first clause describes and unreal/hypothetical situation (Brad was at home) but the second uses a form which describes a real situation (it was Brad, not somebody else, who actually took the kids to school), so there is a mismatch.  Your third sentence is correct because both clauses describe hypothetical situations (Brad was at home and somebody else did not take the kids to school).

I hope that clarifies it for you.  Take a look at the pages I linked to for information on different conditional forms, and some exercises to practise them.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team....
My question is...
Can we use , "happend to" in place of "used to"
Example- I happened to watch a lot of movies.

Hello dhananjay81991,

The two forms have different meanings.

We use 'used to' + verb to describe a repeated or habitual action in the past which is no longer true.  If you say 'I used to watch a lot of movies' then the listener will understand that this is something that was common for you or typical of you, but that you do not do it any more.

'Happened to' + verb has two common uses.  The first is to describe something that was unexpected or unplanned.  For example, if you say 'I happened to meet Bob yesterday' then the listener will understand that the meeting was not planned and happened by accident.

The second use of 'happened to' + verb is less common.  The form is sometimes used as a way of emphasising your own experience of something during an argument.  For example:

A: You don't know anything about South America!

B: Really? Well, I just happen to be married to someone from Brazil, so I think I know a little more about it than you!

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter

Thanks for your help....
You are great :)

Best wishes

Hello team.....
Which sentence would be right....
Could you place the pie on the table.
Or
You could place the pie on the table.

Regards

Hello dhananjay8199,

Are you asking a question? If so, the first sentence with a question mark (?) at the end would be correct: "Could you place the pie on the table?"

On the other hand, if you're making a statement, the second sentence you write is correct.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

i send an email to my friend and he is regularly mailing me so i sent an email to him stating that"im very thankful to you as you have been regularly updating me with the current job notifications" is this sentence right or wrong.

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