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Past tense

Level: intermediate

Past tense

There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The past tense in English is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Past simple: I worked
Past continuous: I was working
Past perfect: I had worked
Past perfect continuous: I had been working

We use these forms:

  • to talk about the past:

He worked at McDonald's. He had worked there since July.
He was working at McDonald's. He had been working there since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.

This use is very common in wishes:

I wish it wasn't so cold.

and in conditions with if:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing, they would probably win.

For hypotheses, wishes and conditions in the past, we use the past perfect:

It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn't spent so much money last month.
I would have helped him if he had asked.

and also to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:

Excuse me, I was wondering if this was the train for York.
I just hoped you would be able to help me.

Past tense 1


Past tense 2



Hi Adam
Thank you for the explanation but the meaning still remains a bit ambiguous for me as I still dont understand fully how can I use them in same/different contexts?.
What I understand from the above reply is that the first sentence conveys that the course has been finished while the second sentence tells that its still going on.Am I correct?If not could you please explain that?
I checked the links recommended by you but really didnt understand the point!Kindly explain.

Both sentences suggest that the course is still continuing, although it's possible that the second could be used at the end of the course. The main difference between them is the meaning of 'for a few months' as I wrote in my previous comment.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Adam
The sentence below is an example of conditionals but looking at the structure I doubt if it is grammatically correct or not as the first part suggests the imaginary/unlikely future and the second suggests the past(if I'm correct).I read this sentence somewhere but really could not understand if it is grammatically correct or not.I even checked the mixed conditionals section of yours but couldnt find anythng of the sort.Could you please help and explain its meaning in terms of tense?Is it an example of good english?
If state had 12 ministers instead of two, we'd have been wooed.
Looking forward to the reply.

The sentence is fine - as you would expect since it comes from the Times of India!
If you have a question about conditionals, could you please ask it on that page of the site?
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Adam for your prompt response. However, I would appreciate if you help me understand how is it fine? 
As far as my understanding goes, shouldnt the correct sentence be like the following:
If state had had 12 ministers instead of two, we'd have been wooed
third conditional (imaginary past)  structure goes like this:
if+past perfect,        would+have+past participle
(condition)                (result)
Or second conditional (imaginary future) goes like this
If+simple past,          would+infinitive
But the sentence:-"If state had 12 ministers instead of two, we'd have been wooed"  doesnt have any of the above structures. Here the structure is
if+simple past,                             would+have+past participle
(imaginary future condition)        (imaginary past result)
Not seen such structure even in mixed conditionals. Correct me, if I am wrong..
What is the writer trying to convey? Thats what I want to understand. What is the meaning of the above sentence even if we consider it an example of mixed conditionals.As you see, I have not seen this kind of structure even on the chapter on mixed conditionals. I would be grateful if you explain it in bit more detail.
P.S.:- I tried posting my comment on conditionals page of the site but information is not making it apparent to find the relevant post. Hence, posting it here again. 

The sentence 'If the state had had 12 ministers instead of two, we'd have been wooed' is also good English. The difference is how the speaker or writer is presenting the possibility of having 12 ministers in terms of likelihood and time.
It's important to understand that 'conditionals' are just a way of categorising the language. Many linguists feel that the 1st/2nd/3rd/mixed conditional division is not especially accurate or helpful. They prefer to look at the use of verb forms in the two clauses as individual and consistent.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thnx a lot

I were failed the questions past  tense,they are harder than present tense!!How can I make improves ?

Thank you ,I will try again till understand .


There is another exercise on the past on the site which you might find useful.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team