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


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Hello yogesh mani tripathi,

I'm afraid that's a question that would need an entire book - or several books - to answer!  In the comments we have space to answer specific question rather than to explain whole chunks of English grammar.  I recommend you work through the verb part of the grammar section on LearnEnglish.  This will take you some time, but it's a very big question which you're asking!

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir these conditional sentences are correct 1=If I went to a friend's house for dinner, I usually took a bottle of wine or some flowers. I don't do that anymore. 2=When I had a day off from work, I often went to the beach. Now, I never get time off. 3=If the weather was nice, she often walked to work. Now, she usually drives. 4=Jerry always helped me with my homework when he had time. But he doesn't do that anymore.

Hi Learner S,

Yes, those sentences are all correct.  The structure here is similar to a zero conditional [if + present, (then) + present], with the difference that here the 'always true' information is in the past - it was always true but now is not.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir Could you please explain what is difference between conditional sentences and hypothetical sentences..............Is it the unreal conditional are hypothetical and what should we say about real conditional sentences...........I couldn't find any example of difference between real conditional and unreal conditional sentences.........Could you please explain the difference.............

Hello Learner S,

Something is hypothetical if we are not sure whether or not it is true; something is conditional if it depends on something else.  A sentence may be both hypothetical and conditional, course, and this is often the case and results in the two terms being used interchangeably with some examples.

You can find out more about hypothetical and conditional sentences on this page and this page, and  more about conditional forms on this page and this page.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir 1=If he were French, he would live in Paris. 2=If she were rich, she would buy a yacht. These are present hypothetical.... The past hypothetical of these sentences 1=If he had been a french,he would have been lived in Paris. 2=If she had been rich,she would have been bought a yacht Am I right?

Hello Learner S,

Those are almost correct, but you have one extra word in each sentence.  The correct sentences would be:

If he had been French, he would have lived in Paris.

If she had been rich, she would have bought a yacht.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

HELLO THERE! I thought when we use 'IF' it means that is a conditional sentence.But in question 7 and 8 in this exercise they said that they aren't conditional sentences.Could you explain how we identify these things? Thank you.

Hello bimsara,

I think you've misinterpreted the answers to these questions.  It does not say that they are not conditionals; it simply explains the use of the past tense in each sentence.  It is quite possible to form a conditional without a past tense.  Indeed, often there is a choice of using present + will (a first conditional) or past + would (second conditional), and there are various reasons why you might choose the latter, including politeness. In other words, just because the reason for the use of the past tense is, say, politness, it does not mean that the sentence is not a conditional sentence.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, It means we can say "i'm wondering if you will..........." instead of "I was wondering if you would....." Please explain this one. Thank you.

Hi bimsara,

"I'm wondering if you will..." could be used to say what we guess someone else will do in the future or ask about it, e.g. "I'm wondering if you will go to the cinema". Depending on the context, this can mean that I think you might go to the cinema at the time we're talking about it, or I'm indirectly asking you if you will go to the cinema.

"I was wondering if you would..." could be used to express what I was thinking in the past about an action that you would do later, e.g. "I was wondering if you would go to the cinema" (and now I see that you did), or as Peter mentions in his response, could be used to make a polite request in the present, e.g. "I was wondering if you would mind lending me 20 pounds".

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team


Here is sentence l can't understand,help me to translate;

"The experiments have been being caried out since 1997."in what tense this sentence?

best wishes!


This is an example of a present perfect continuous passive form, expressing an unfinished past activity (the experiments started in the past, are repeated events and are still continuing) without reference to the subject.

It is a quite correct sentence but is a very long and very unusual form - because it is so long and complex it is usually avoided as stylistically it feels quite clumsy, and so active forms are usually preferred:

'We/Scientists/They (etc.) have been carrying out the experiments since 1997.'

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there! Is it okay to mix past tenses as in: "Accountants were bent over their computer keyboards, tapping away at a furious pace, while other staffers were arguing with clients over the phone. Proofcheckers perused printouts, while the tea boy filled cups of tea." I've used past continuous in the first sentence and simple past in the second. Is this okay in a fictional narrative? It does sound okay to me, but an opinion is needed!

Hi Pierre Francis,

That looks absolutely fine to me.  It's perfectly acceptable to use a range of past forms in a narrative - in fact, it's really quite essential.  If the narrative were written using, for example, only past simple forms then it would sound very unnatural and the style would be poor.  In narratives we use many verb forms, but the most common are actually called, collectively, the 'narrative tenses': past simple, past continuous, past perfect simple and past perfect continuous.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

please, help me what's the difference between hypothetical statement and conditional statement thank you so much!
Hi Andy, In the context of the grammar discussed on this page, hypothetical statements and conditional statements are basically identical. Both of them are used to refer to states or events that are imaginary or not real at the moment. Best wishes, Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, wondering whether you can tell me which is the difference among the following three sentences:

1. I wish I have not spent so much money last month

2. I wish I had not spent so much money last month

3. I wish I would not have spent so much money last month

Are those sentences grammatically correct?  If they are, what tense are they expressing? 

Some advises for correcting bad habits when speaking and writing will be appreciated as well...

Thanks a lot !

'I have' is a present tense.

'I had' is a past tense. 

'I would' is a future tense.

Since you are referring to last month, which is something that has already happened, 'I had' would be the correct one to use, since you are talking about the past. 

'I have' would be incorrect because your sentence will refer to the present tense and the past tense at the same time. You should not mix tenses in the same sentence if you are referring to the same thing!

The same argument goes for 'I would'. 


Hello koga369,

As I said on another page, it's nice that you want to help other users.  However, your answers are not completely accurate and I think you may end up confusing people more than helping them!  For example, 'I would' is not a future tense (in fact, English has no 'future tense' as such, but rather a range of ways of talking about the future).  The verb 'would' is a modal verb which can have future meaning, but quite a specific future meaning and only in certain contexts.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi MayelaM,

After 'wish' you have two alternatives:


'I wish I hadn't spent so much money last money.' [a regret about the past]

'I wish I didn't spend so much money.' [a regret about the present]

There is another possibility if you are talking about somebody's behaviour or decisions.  In that situation it is possible to use 'would':

'I wish he wouldn't complain so much!'

From this, you can see that the second sentence is fine, but the other two (1 and 3) are incorrect.


On your other question, I think I'd really need to know what the specific bad habits are before giving you any advice on those!  Is there anything in particular that you have trouble with?

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Can you please explain me the difference between the following two sentences. "He always shaved before going out in the evening." and "He always shaves before going out in the evening."

Hello Gamaya,

The difference is that in the first sentence, it's no longer true because he doesn't shave (or go out) any more and in the second sentence, it's still true now.

Does that help?

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello :) i'm nabila aged 13y.o from Indonesia

i'm still confused to learn about past tense, and what is the difference between in,on, and at. i've been improve my English skills into my friends at school but it doesn't make any sense. my friends are still use Indonesian in my English courses. Sorry for my bad English, but this page helped me alot:) Thank you so much

Hello Nabila,

Your English is not bad at all!  The words you mention (in, on and at) are all examples of prepositions and you can find quite a few pages on this topic here.  If you type 'prepositions' into the search window on the right then you'll have quite a lot to choose from:


By the way, as you're a teenager perhaps you'll find our sister-site LearnEnglish Teens interesting.  It's got a lot of cool content which I'm sure you'll enjoy.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

My teacher. I have a question...

What is different between these two sentences(meanings)???

1.The car was invented by Carl Benz.

2.The car had invented by Carl Benz.


Please Solve My Problem.     Thanks....

Hi alireza98fatahi,

I don't understand the second sentence that you wrote, but the first one is very clear.

It looks like you are studying the passive voice. Have you seen the explanation of the passive and the explanation of the difference between the active and passive voices? Both of these pages also have exercises so you can practice the passive.

If you have any more questions after working through these pages, please let us know.

Thanks for visiting LearnEnglish!


The LearnEnglish Team

The first is saying Carl Benz invented the car sometime in the past; which makes sense.

The second sentence doesn't make sense....

It would make much more sense it you had put: The car had BEEN invented by Carl Benz. If you don't, the first part of the sentence 'The car had invented..' makes it sound like the car itself was inventing something!! The 'had been' bit sets the sentence up so that you can say it was invented by someone.

'Had been' is basically the same as was. I'd say it is almost interchangeable. 


I was at the supermarket.

I had been at the supermarket. 

You can basically convey the same thing using both sentences.

Alternatively, you could have said 'Carl Benz had invented the car', which makes sense as well.

Hello koga369,

It's great that you want to help some of the other LearnEnglish users with their questions, but I can't agree with everything you've said here, such as 'had been' (a past perfect form) and 'was' (a past simple form) being almost interchangeable!

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team


how am i improve my speaking level? in my family no one could speak English so how do i practice and  correct my wrongs?? please give me some ideas :( 

Hi sindujak and welcome to LearnEnglish!

This is one of the questions which we are most often asked.  It can be hard to improve your speaking without someone to practise speaking with, so think about the people you know, friends as well as family.  Do any of them speak English?  Are any of them learning English?  If so, perhaps your could practise with them?  It's a great way to develop fluency in speaking, and to start speaking and responding more confidently.

If you can't find a practise partner, there are other ways.  For example, one very good way to improve is to listen to good examples of natural speech.  I don't know what your English is like or what you need to practise or learn, so I can't recommend particular texts.  However, here on LearnEnglish you can find a lot of things to listen to.  Try some of the different podcasts and programmes there - I'm sure you'll find some really useful things there to help you develop your English generally, and your speaking specifically.  Many of them can be downloaded and listened to offline, and you can also use the transcripts to listen and read, or listen and speak, at the same time.

Good luck with your learning and best wishes,




The LearnEnglish Team

Hi PeterM

thank you So much  for helping me...i will practice and try to do my best... :)  i did some courses in Sri Lanka British council my level is intermediate 3 so could you recommend any materials for intermediate level student??

Hi again sindujak,

You're welcome, of course!

Your level would correspond with B1 or B2 in the CEFR system.  To find materials for your level, try using the search window on the left.  Type 'CEFR B1' or 'CEFR B2' and you'll see links to materials at those levels.  Try them out and see how helpful they are.

I think I would personally recommend two things for you.  The first is our soap opera, Big City Small World, which is fun and a great way to pick up natural English phrases and pronunciation.  Every episode has exercises and tasks, too, so it's a great way to learn.

The second thing I'd recommend is our Word on the Street series.  This might be a bit more challenging for you, but there is a transcript with each episode to help you, and I think you'll find the topics of this series really interesting.

Best of luck!


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team

I have some problem with past tense verb, when I make Sentence in my mind it is correct but when I want speak about past ,I have a lot of problem.

I think you should build a"monitor" to control your utterances. The more you use the monitor, the better quality you will gain. Try to speak slowly. I believe it's everybody's problem.

Hello Shahla Aminaei,

I know just what you mean, because I have similar problems when I speak in foreign languages!  It's the difference between competence (what we know in our heads) and production (what comes out of our mouths), and it's very frustrating.  I'm afraid it's a case of keeping going and keeping using English... and slowly you'll make fewer and fewer mistakes.  It's a normal part of the learning process.  Just don't give up!

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team


What is the difference between two sentences below:

It started to rain.

It started raining.

Is it true if I say the second sentence means: "It was raining in the past" and the first sentence means "It has started some minutes ago and it is raining now"

Thank you in advanced.

Dear Teachers : My question is...
is the past perfect and past participle are the same?

thank you

Hi I'm new here and I would like to speak with people who speak the English language via Skype, to improve my language and I hope to help me because my exam after a one month


Hello h_z, and welcome to LearnEnglish!


We really like it when students want to practice their English together. That's why we have comment sections on almost all of our pages – so you can talk to other students!


However, please remember our house rules ask you not to share personal information, including Skype and e-mail. This is to protect you and everyone else who uses our site. Why not tell us a little bit about yourself and your exam here in the comments, and see if anyone has advice or help for you?


Have fun, and enjoy your stay on LearnEnglish!




Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Mr. AdamJk for your whole-heartedly respond I am glad to heard from your great opinion about the IELTS I will check it now. Because in a fast few days I am focused on my past perfect continues in grammar. Thank you English team.

If you are very clever and have enough knowledge share your ideas in a logical manner. Instead of sharing your bad opinion. Moreover we are here to learn not to criticize the people. Disseminate your thoughts in a better communication and broaden our minds in a good relations to each other unlike your given the bad impression

Could anybody please help me and share your idea how to pass my IELTS exam because my proximity test date are coming this November. Thanks In advance for those people who are willing to help me.