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.