1 Talking about past events and situations:

We use the past simple:

  • when we are talking about an event that happened at a particular time in the past

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

  • when we are talking about something that continued for some time in the past

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

When we are talking 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.

WARNING: We do not normally use would with stative verbs.

We use the past continuous:

  • when we are talking about something which happened before and after a given time in the past

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

  • when we are talking about something happening 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.

2 The past in the past

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

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.

3 The past and the present:

We use the present perfect:

  • when we are talking about the effects in the present of something that happened in the past:

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.

  • When we are talking about something that started in the past and still goes on:

We have lived here since 2007. (and we still live here)
I have been working at the university for over ten years.

4 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.

  • the past continuous:

It was September. Mary was starting school the next week.
We were very busy. The shop was opening in two weeks' time.

 

 

Exercise

Comments

Dear teachers, I would like to ask about these two sentences :
She was cooking when I arrived.
She had been cooking when I arrived.

are those sentence correct ?if they are correct, do they have the same meaning? If they don't, please help me tyo understand why. Thank you, teachers. :)

Hi jiyi,

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but whether they are correct in a particular situation depends on the situation and what you mean. For example, the first one would be appropriate when you arrive home from work and see your mother cooking in that moment. But if you arrive home and see hot food on the table and that your mother has just finished washing her hands, then the second one would be the appropriate one (and not the first, since the cooking is done).

So the past continuous expresses an action that was still in progress, whereas the past perfect continuous talks about the result of an action that just finished. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello,why is there not "Mary would start school the next week" instead of Mary was starting school the next day" as your example above? that sounds me bad..

Hello manuel24,

When we talk about arrangements, we use the present continuous:

Mary is starting school next week.

 

If we want to say the same thing but referring to the future from a point in the past, we use the past continuous:

Mary was starting school next week.

 

Grammatically, you could say ...would start..., but this would change the meaning and no longer present the action as an arrangement. For example, you could use this form to describe a decision:

We decided that Mary would start school next week.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank youPeter,to talk about arrangements can we use present continuous and "going to"indifferently?so can I say "Mary is going to start school next week?

Hello manuel24,

There is a difference in the use of these forms. Please take a look at our pages on the topic as I think these will clarify it for you. If you still have a question after reading about it on those pages, please post your question there and we'll be try to answer it for you.

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/intermediate-grammar/future-plans

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/talking-about-future

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you peter,the sentence "Mary was starting school next week" could have the same meaning of "Mary would have started school next week"?I also would say if the sentence "someone would suddenly put a coin in it and it would begin to play" is correct,shouldn't be "someone would have suddenly put a coin in it and it would have begun to play?

Hello manuel24,

Those sentences are not the same.

Mary was starting school next week means that it was her intention to start school. There is no information about whether or not she did start.

Mary would have started... tells us that she did not start school. It describes something that was intended but did not come to pass for some reason.

The difference between the last two sentences is similar, but it makes little sense to discuss them without a context. Modal verbs such as would are context dependent. Your sentence could refer to past habits or to a hypothetical situation in the present or future, for example.

 

I suggest you take a look at our section on modal verbs:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/modal-verbs

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello everyone,i don't understand the construction of the following sentence:
"But his career could have panned out very differently had he opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager".Why "had is not after the subject?shouldn't there be "if" after "differently"?

Hello manuel24,

There are two ways to phrase this sentence.

You can use if:

But his career could have panned out very differently if he had opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager.

Or you can use the inverted form:

But his career could have panned out very differently had he opted to move to stanford bridge as a teenager.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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