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

therefore they mean that the person don't speak italian at the moment.right?

Hello manuel24,

Not necessarily. To know this we would need to know the context in which the sentence is used. The speaker could be trying to speak Italian and say this as an explanation of why they are not very fluent: I'm sorry! It's been a long time since I have spoken Italian!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

can you tell me a context in which we can say "It's been a long time since I spoke italian"?

Hello manuel24,

The context in my previous answer (a person having trouble speaking Italian and trying to explain this) is fine. As I said, the two forms can be used interchangeably.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can I use present perfect continuous in the example

"We have lived here since 2007." ?

"We have been living here since 2007."

it would be wrong?

Hello JHRoss,

Both the simple and continuous forms are possible here and there is little difference in meaning. The continuous form emphasises the ongoing duration of the action, while the simple form emphasises the action as a whole. We would tend to use the simple form if we are interested in the result of the action or the achievement it represents, or if the action is complete, while the continuous would usually be used when we want to focus on the duration of the activity, the effort it entails or if the activity is not finished.

You can read more about the present perfect simple and continuous on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

I've once seen the following sentence.
''At school I disliked the maths teacher because he was always picking/always picked on me."

As my understanding, the past continuous is used here to express annoyance and the past simple describes an action happened in the past.
Is this possible to use "used to" or "would" in this case, since the action is a repeated action in the past?

Thank you in advanced,
Toan

Hello toandue,

It's certainly grammatically possible to use both 'would' and 'used to + infinitive' here. The past continuous or past simple form sounds a little more natural to me, particularly if you use 'always' in the sentence. I suppose this is because it would be a little redundant with 'would' or 'used to', though not grammatically incorrect. 

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team,
What's the difference between "used to" and "would" when talking about past habits?
Thanks,
Elton

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