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 – things that are imagined rather than true.
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Tense Form
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 since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in conditions:

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

and hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.
I would always help someone who really needed help.

and wishes:

I wish it wasn’t so cold.

  • In conditions, hypotheses and wishes, if we want to talk about the past, we always use the past perfect:

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

 

  • We can use the past forms 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.

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Hello again fahri,

The two forms you mention are present perfect simple ('have worked') and present perfect continuous ('have been working'). These are explained on this Quick grammar page and in this language focus video.

The difference between past perfect and present perfect is explained on our talking about the past page.

Please take a look at these pages and then if you have any other specific questions, don't hesitate to ask us!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello all
Please kindly let me know the difference in the meaning of these two sentences:
1.It is time for you to do something about it.
2.It is time you did something about it.
Regards

The difference in meaning is:
'It's time to do something' would normally suggest that this is a good time to do something or it was planned for now.
'It's time you did something' would normally suggest that the best time to do it has actually passed. It's overdue. You really should have done it before now.
The second phrase is often used with these extra words to emphasise how late you are in doing it:-
It's about time you did something.
It's high time you did something. (more emphatic)

Hello ashazimzadeh,

There is no difference in meaning between these two sentences and both are correct. 2 would probably be considered more correct in traditional grammars, but 1 is very commonly used and is also correct. In structures like the one in sentence 2, the past tense has a present meaning.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, i would like to understand the difference between I did my home work, I had done my home work and I have done my home work

Hello Tim,

These tenses (past simple, past perfect and present perfect) are explained in some detail on our talking about the past page. Please take a look there and then if you have any more specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, I hope you are fine and fit. I have a question that I want to ask from you. What is difference between these two sentences? I has been waiting for them for 2 hours. And I was waiting for them for 20 minutes.

Hello nadarali1996,

These sentences have different time references and a context is required to understand what those time references are.

The correct form of the first sentence is 'I have been waiting for them for 2 hours'. We use this when the waiting began in the past and continues up to the present - you are still waiting as you speak.

In the second sentence the waiting is all in the past; you are not waiting now and are telling someone about a past event. Generally we use 'was waiting' rather than 'waited' when the action was interrupted by another action. For example, we might say 'I was waiting for them for two hours before they arrived', where their arrival interrupts the waiting. However, without knowing the context of the sentence we can only guess at this.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So,as I have understood it,if I wanted to emphasize that she had not done her work by some moment in the past I would choose Past P.,and if I want to emphasize that her work still is not done(at present moment) then I choose Present P., and Past Simple (She told...) does't influence on my choice(Past P. or Present P.) ?

Hello Slava,

I wouldn't say the past simple doesn't influence the tense in the second clause, but it certainly doesn't determine it automatically. The two different forms express different meanings, i.e. refer to different times.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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