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

Sir Kirk,
I appreciate your comment below the first one, yes I will do some clarification regarding the issue. thx and it's a privileged to receive helps from your guys.

we use the second form of a verb in past indefinite and "Read" is also the send form of a verb
"we read the notebook"
In above sentence how I can understand that it's a past indefinite

Hello Najid Ali,

The only difference between 'read' (present form) and 'read' (past form) is the pronunciation. In writing we must use the context to tell us whether we are referring to past time or present time.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

He did not want or wanted?

Hello Najid Ali,

The negative form of the past simple is [did not + base form of the verb]. Therefore 'he did not want' would be correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I've just read comments about sequence of tenses. I used to think that only object clauses depend on sequence of clauses (she said she LIVED (now) in London). But there are many websites that says sequence of tenses isn't used with other subordinate clauses too. Peter M explained the example "he didn't get a job because his English isn't / wasn't well" and wrote that the second sentence could contain present tense (isn't) although the main sentence is past action. So, I concluded that clauses of reason didn't depend on sequence of tenses. Could you tell me which types of subordinate clauses also don't depend on sequence of tenses?

Hello Alex H,

In my answer I made the point that the use of different verb forms is really based not upon the nature of the clause but on the logical meaning being expressed. In the examples I quoted the issue was whether or not the action or state is still true or not (or is not known). Looking for a rule which is dependent on the type of subordinate clause is a false path, I would suggest, and is exactly the mistake which the earlier poster was making in his question.

 

To give you just one more example, it is perfectly fine to say all of the following:

 

She said she had lived in London.

She said she lived in London.

She said she has lived in London.

She said she lives in London.

She said she was going to live in London.

She said she is going to live in London.

She said she would live in London.

She said she will live in London.

 

And many other forms are possible as well. The choice - and it is a choice - is the speaker's, and depends not upon the nature of the clause but on the meaning which the speaker wishes to express.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you!!! Basically, I'm shocked:) I thought the second sentence in my example could contain
only past tense <== pay attention to this sentence - I wrote it according to sequence of tenses )) So, if you say that it doesn't make sense I can write it that way? ==> I thought the second sentence in my example CAN contain only past tense

Hi Alex H,

In this example 'could' seems to make more sense, as the sentence was written in the past and you are referring to something which is a completed action (the forming of that sentence). If you were speaking in more general terms then the present tense would be more appropriate. For example:

I thought that the type of sentence in my example can contain only past tense.

Here you are no longer talking about one sentence written in the past, but a type of sentence. Again, it is a question of how you see the action, not the type of clause.

I think this page will be helpful to you on this point. As you'll see, the first statement on that page is

Many teachers and learners think that tense forms in reported speech are complex.

In fact, "reported speech" follows exactly the same rules as the rest of the language.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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