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.





1. I finished eating.
2.I was finished eating.
Do these two sentences give same meaning?
Is the 2nd sentence in passive voice? Similarly,
I have done and I am done, and I have gone mad and I am gone mad. Please explain it. I don't understand.

Hello jitu_jaga,

The second sentence is an informal form which I would say is non-standard. It is used primarily in slang and certain dialects and it has the meaning of 'I had finished'. A similar form which you can sometimes find, which is also non-standard, is 'I was done + verbing' (I was done talking to him), and this also has the meaning of 'I had finished'.

In terms of form, these look like passive constructions. However, as I said above, they do not have a passive meaning and are rather very informal non-standard/dialectical forms.



The LearnEnglish Team

But, sometimes, In movie I listen ' I am done ' or ' I am gone mad'. That means 'I have done' or " I have gone mad' which are the active meaning.

Hello jitu_jaga,

A lot of the language in films is non-standard. 'I am gone mad' is a good example of this; if you want to speak informally in certain situations, it might be appropriate, but in most I wouldn't recommend imitating it.

'I am done' is different and is a standard, though informal, form. It means 'I have finished it' or 'it is finished'. See the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'done' for more on this.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Kirk.

Hi, I have doubts reagarding use of verb ' stay'.
1. when I was a child, I stayed with my mom or I was staying with my mom. Could u explain which one would be correct and why?
2. During summer I stayed or was staying in Scotland.
Please explain it . I don't understand this.

Hello jitu_jaga,

This is really the same question as the one below. Please see my answer there.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, whenever I read a book I find 'Once upon a time there lived a king' not they write' was living a king'.
similarly 'when I was a child I lived in italy' not 'was living in italy'. would it be wrong to use continuous tense or its meaning would be changed? could u explain it?
2. while I was living in Poland I met a beautiful girl. In this sentence why continuous tense is used and not simple past. Please explain how can I use live in correct tense?

Hi jitu_jaga,

As far as the fairy tale example goes, I would say that this is a fixed expression and not an example of a grammatical rule.


We use continuous forms to show an ongoing activity which is unfinished, temporary or interrupted, and this is key to your examples.

When I was a child I lived in Italy... tells us that Italy was your home.

When I was a child I was living in Italy... tells us that your time in Italy was temporary and that you did not see it as your home, but only a place you spent some time in.


The difference here is psychological rather than factual. Let's say a British person moves to France and remains there for 30 years. They can describe their situation as I live in France or I'm living in France. Both are correct. The first tells us that the person sees France as their permanent home. The second tells us that they see it as temporary, even after 30 years, and expect one day to leave.


Your other example show interrupted time:

While I was living in Poland I met a beautiful girl

The continuous form makes it clear that the meeting happened during the time of the other activity (living in Poland). In this context there is little chance of confusion, but in other contexts it may not be clear. For example:

When I spoke to him, he got angry.

While I was speaking to him, he got angry.

The first sentence suggests that the act of speaking to him made him angry. The second sentence suggests that he was not angry when I started speaking to him but became angry during the conversation.


I hope that helps to clarify it for you.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter for writing this long explanation and spending your valuable time. Now I am understanding it more. Actually English is little bit different from my native language. Have a good day.