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.




Hello Sir!

Is the following sentence grammatically correct?

"There have been times in my life when I did nothing but work or study."

I saw this sentence in a text book. The second part of the sentence is in simple past tense, I wounder if past perfect tense should be used in the first part of the sentence.

i.e. There " had been " times in my life when I " did " nothing but work or study.

Thank you!

Hello chiang,

The sentence is correct with both present perfect and past perfect for the first verb. The present perfect makes the verb refer to your life from birth until now, whereas 'did' refers to specific periods within that time. The past perfect would make the verb refer to past periods in your life, and 'did' could refer to specific periods within that longer period.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Sirs,

As what this site is telling us about using past tense in future condidtions, Is this grammatically correct? "I really wanted to learn from him"
Why do we have to use past tense form of verb in future conditions when it is in fact didn't occurred yet?

Hello again Aoll212,

'I really wanted to learn from him' is grammatically correct, but refers to a past time, at least in a general context. When the explanation above says the past can be used to refer to the present or future, it's referring to conditional structures -- for example, the second conditional.

Grammatical terms can be confusing, so it's important to see that there is a difference between a verb tense and the time a verb refers to. As it is used on this page, 'tense' refers to the form of a word. (There are many other descriptions of the English verbal system that also speak of only two tenses, e.g. the Wikipedia.) Different verb tenses can be used to speak about different times.

The past simple tense, for example, can refer to an imaginary future time (in 'He could get a new job if he really tried') or to something that happened yesterday (in 'Steve worked at McDonald's as a young man.') In a similar way, a present tense can be used to talk about a future time ('I'm going to the park tomorrow') or to talk about a past time (in storytelling).

I hope this helps clear it up for you a bit.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Now I get it! Very much appreciated hehe. More power to you guys!

Dear Experts,

I wish to know the difference between "wasn't" and "didn't".

Please help me to understand which verb forms are correct in the below sentences

1. The girls were playing excitedly in the park and wasn't wanting to come in when it began raining.

2. The girls were playing excitedly in the park and didn't want to come in when it began raining.

Thank you


Hello, could you please explain it further about the past tense I was corrected a while ago.

''Further, basic compulsory points must ACHIEVED first to be able to maintain a clear, comprehensive and rewarding experience using the web.''

I put 'achieve' at first, then they correct mine. Why is that? It did not happened yet right? Why do we need a past tense in it.

Hello Aoll212,

I'd recommend you ask your teacher or whoever corrected your sentence for more information. 'must achieved' by itself is not correct. I suppose the form you need here is a passive one: 'must be achieved'. Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

can't edit my comment here, there's a lot of mistakes from what I wrote like *some clarification(should be plural from right?
*privileged should be present tense.
any other way to take back our comments?

Hello again Aoll212,

No, I'm afraid there's no way for you to edit a comment after you have posted it. It is possible for us to delete comments, but we don't generally do that unless a comment is offensive or inappropriate in some way. It's OK if there are mistakes in your comments -- mistakes are a natural part of learning.

I'm afraid we don't provide the service of correcting users' texts, but we can answer specific questions about specific sentences from time to time. In this case, 'clarification' is OK, though I would recommend 'I will try to clarify' instead. As for the other one, yes, 'privilege' is correct and 'privileged' is not, though please note that 'privilege' is a noun here (and 'privileged' could be an adjective as well as a verb).

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team