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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, I came across this sentence in a news article:

It is also a crime if a North Korean is aware of the sale but did not report it.

May I know, if using "did not" in the sentence is applied due to referring to the present or future in hypotheses?

If that is the case, should we use "were" to replace "is" as the if-conjuncture is about hypotheses?

Hello CareBears07,

I'm afraid I can't be completely sure what time this refers to without knowing the full context, but it sounds to me as if it's referring to a hypothetical present situation (being aware) that is conditioned by a past action (not reporting).

It wouldn't be correct to change 'is aware' to 'were aware' because 'it is a crime' at the beginning of the sentence clearly sets up a first conditional for the main sentence. You could, however, write 'It would also be a crime if a North Korean were aware of the sale but hadn't reported it.'

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Kirk! Now I have a better understanding.


would you say “thank to my studies I DEVELOPED specific skills…” or “thank to my studies I HAVE DEVELOPED specific skills…”? (my studies finished one year ago).

Thanks a lot!

Hello Cmd94,

Both forms are possible. You can look at this as a present result of a past action (I have developed) or as a past action (I developed). It's a question of emphasis and speaker choice.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much! :)

I meant "when I was in China"

Can you please help me? which variant is correct:
Did you eat anything interesting in China?
Have you eaten anything interesting in China?
and why?
thanks a lot)

Hi elena108108,

Both questions are grammatically correct, and they have different meanings.

The first question is in the past simple. It refers to a past time that is finished, e.g. Did you eat anything interesting when you went to China last year / in 2018? 

The second question is in the present perfect. This is used for unfinished time periods. If you ask Have you eaten anything interesting in China?, the person you are speaking to is probably in China right now, i.e. the time period for the action continues up to and includes the present moment. (The past simple question, on the other hand, probably means that the person you are speaking to is not in China any more, i.e. that time period is now finished.)

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot! now it's clear :)