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,
I'd like to know if this sentence is correct:
if I had stayed in my last job, I wouldn't been unemployee right now.
I'm not sure if is mandatory put 'have' after wouldn't.
Thanks a lot for your feedback

Hello felipeur,

The correct sentence is:

 

If I had stayed in my last job, I wouldn't be unemployed right now.

 

As the result is a present result we need 'wound't be'. For past results we use 'wouldn't have been'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,pls.help me figure out the difference between these two:
"I had to stopped by to tell him that i wouldnt be at the group meeting at the school that evening" but my friend told me that it should be "I stopped by to tell him that i wouldnt be at the group meeting at the school that evening" are these the same ?.

hello harmonicalove17,

Your friend is correct: the first sentence is not grammatical and the second sentence is correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for making it clear

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,
Kirk
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?
Tnx

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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