Level: intermediate

## Past events and situations

We use the past simple to talk about:

• something that happened once in the past:

The film started at seven thirty.
We arrived home before dark.

• something that was true for some time in the past:

Everybody worked hard through the winter.
We stayed with our friends in London.

When we talk 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.

We do not normally use would with stative verbs. We use the past simple or used to instead:

He would looked much older than he does now. (NOT would look)
We would used to feel very cold in winter. (NOT would feel)

Past simple, used to and would 1

MultipleSelection_MTY0NTY=

Past simple, used to and would 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NTc=

We use the past continuous:

• for something that happened before and after a specific time in the past:

It was just after ten. I was watching the news on TV.
At half-time we were losing 1–0.

• for something that happened 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.

Past simple and past continuous 1

MultipleChoice_MTY0NTg=

Past simple and past continuous 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NTk=

## The past in the past

We use the past perfect when we are looking back from a point in the past to something earlier in the past:

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.

Past simple, continuous and perfect 1

MultipleChoice_MTY0NjE=

Past simple, continuous and perfect 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NjM=

## The past and the present

We use the present perfect:

• for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

We have lived here since 2017. [and we still live here]
I have been working at the university for over ten years.

• for something that happened in the past but is important in the present:

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.

Be careful!
We do not use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a finished past time:
 yesterday last week/month/year in 2010 when I was younger  etc.

I have seen that film yesterday.
We have just bought a new car last week.
When we were children we have been to California.

but we can use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a time which is not yet finished:

 today this morning/week/year now that I am eighteen   etc.

Have you seen Helen today?
We have bought a new car this week.

Present perfect and past simple 1

MultipleChoice_MTYzMTU=

Present perfect and past simple 2

GapFillTyping_MTYzMTc=

## 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.

It was September. Mary was starting school the next week.
We were very busy. Our guests were arriving soon and we had to get their room ready.

## The past with modal verbs

could is the past tense of can:

You could get a good meal for a pound when I was a boy.

would is the past tense of will:

He said he would come but he forgot.

We use may have, might have and could have to show that something has possibly happened in the past:

I'll telephone him. He might have got home early.
She's very late. She could have missed her train.

We use should have as the past form of should:

I didn't know he was ill. He should have told me.
You shouldn't have spent so much money.

We use would have and could have to talk about something that was possible in the past but did not happen:

I could have gone to Mexico for my holiday but it was too expensive.
I would have called you, but I had forgotten my phone.
They would have gone out if the weather had been better.

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

When she got home, she realized that while she ….. someone has stolen her wallet!
B. Was working

I'm afraid we don't provide answers for questions from other sources. We're happy to explain points of grammar or answer other questions about the language, but if we began simply giving answers to tasks we would end up doing our users' homework and tests for them, which is not our job!

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,thank you for this great information. I really found it concise and interesting. I got a question about future in the past. If I want to use in this sentence:

"The train departs at 10 pm, so we have to hurry up"

This sentence is in present simple because is for a timetabled event, but let's suppose that later i said in future in the past:

"The train departed at 10 pm, so we had to hurry up"

Is this correct? because now i get confused if this new sentence is only past simple, or is still in future in the past. With was going to and would i get it, but with past tense i get confussed.

Thank you for your time and warm grettings ;)

Hi mariancs,

Yes, the sentence is correct. Yes, it can be understood future in the past, if we take the focal time of the sentence as "we had to hurry up". "The train departed at 10 pm" is in the future, from the point of view of that focal time. This timeframe might be easier to see if we expand the context:

-- "We we busy packing our bags and preparing some snacks for the journey. It would take us 30 minutes to get to the station, and we still weren't ready. The train departed at 10 pm, so we had to hurry up."

Alternatively, if the focal time is "The train departed at 10 pm", then it isn't future in the past. It's just a past event. Here's another example in context:

-- "The train was supposed to depart at 9:30, but there was a delay. In the end, the train departed at 10 pm, so we had to hurry up when we arrived at our destination."

So, it's possible to interpret this sentence in two ways, which might be the reason for the confusion. To resolve it, look at the full context in which it is used, and identify the timeframe.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Would you please clarify, are the following sentences correct —
1. My mother wanted to know whom I had called the previous night.
2. My mother said to me,“ who had you called last night ?”
3. My mother said to me,“ who have you called last night ?”

As we know in the sentence 1 'the previous night' is used so the original sentence (i.e. direct speech) past tense should be used .
So in my opinion the correct direct speech of sentence 1 is sentence 2
But I'm also a bit confused about sentence 3

Hi abhay,

I think it should be --> My mother said to me, "Who did you call last night?"

In sentence 1, had called (past perfect) is used to show that this action took place earlier than the other past action (wanted to know). However, in direct speech, only one action is actually said by the speaker. The other action (wanted to know) is in the reporting clause, not in the direct speech itself. So, there is no reason for the speaker to use past perfect in the direct speech. Instead, it should be past simple (Who did you call ...?).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I found this very informative, but I was left with a question about the following structure still: When he next visited, it would happen again. Is this a prediction about something that will still happen? Or, because of would + verb, does it become something in the past that may not come to be anymore? Is it syntatically correct? Which tense is it and which meaning is it conveying?

Thank you

Hello camilless,

This looks like a prediction in the past (future in the past) but it's hard to say without knowing the context in which it is used. For example, you might use it in a narrative when a character is looking ahead to something later in the story:

'They had argued from the very beginning of his visit, and he was sure that when he next visited it would happen again.'

'Would' is a modal verb so tense is not an issue.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Talking about the past. What do these sentences mean? 1- She was going to be lost whichever road she took. 2- She was lost whichever road she had taken.

Helo vanshh03,

The first sentence is a prediction in the past about what comes next. We might use this in a narrative, for example, where events are related using past tenses and we want to look ahead in the story.

The second sentence describes a current (in the story) result (lost) of a past action (had taken). In this context, the choice of road has already happened but it had no effect on whether or not she was lost; this was inevitable.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi. The description when to use past simple/used to/would seems to me as quite misleading one here. The only case when "would/used to" should be used is to describe an action happened several times in the past, as per this article. Immediately after introducing would/used to, there is an example: "We used to feel very cold in winter." How is it possible to feel cold several times? As for me that doesn't make any sense. You are either cold or not. There can't be any times of being cold. Another one from the exercise bellow: "From 1924 to 1991, Saint Petersburg had a different name. It was called/used to be called Leningrad." From 1924 to 1991 is some time in the past. Which verb/tense according to this article we have to use when we something "was true for some time in the past"? Right. Past simple. And only past simple. Why used to is also right answer here? "I loved/used to love chocolate when I was younger, but now I hardly ever eat it." And again. There is no mentioning of "several times in the past". How is it even possible to love several times? Why is used to a correct option here?

Hi TheCrilon,

The explanation above says:

• When we talk about something that happened several times in the past, we use the past simple or 'used to' or 'would'.

But this is not to say that is the only meaning these words have. That might be the source of the confusion.

About the We used to feel very cold in winter example, the previous sentence (i.e. the sentence that introduces it) says:

• We do not normally use 'would' with stative verbs. We use the past simple or 'used to' instead.

You’re right that 'feel very cold' here does not mean feeling cold several times. It's a state, so that's why the previous sentence mentions stative verbs. The other examples you mention about Saint Petersburg and chocolate are also states (i.e. they have stative verbs 'be called' and 'love').

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi TheCrilon,

No problem :) Thanks for visiting our site.

This page is titled 'Talking about the past' because it presents past meanings (e.g. Past events and situations; The past in the past) and forms you can use for those meanings. In other words, the page is primarily organised by past meaning – not by form. It doesn't aim to present each form (i.e. past simple, 'used to', 'would') and list all of the meanings it has. For a form-by-form explanation, you may like to refer to this page on Past habits – 'used to', 'would' and the past simple.

The explanation you quoted from another resource is a good one! You can find a similar explanation on our page that I linked above.

About the Saint Petersburg example, yes – this is something that was true for some time in the past. But the sentence also contains the stative verb 'be (called)', so the guidance on the page about stative verbs is also relevant: We do not normally use 'would' with stative verbs. We use the past simple or 'used to' instead. When referring to the past, all stative verbs have the 'true for some time' meaning.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk First of all thank you for your reply. Base on what i learnt from different grammar books, and as you mentioned this structure most of times is used to show past possibility that not happened. But it also can be use to express our certainty for example; oh, John it's three and half o'clock,the match between ManU and Chelsee will have started by now. In this example speaker base on his previous information getting from news, reached to level of certainty that believes the match surely have started. In this situation the usage of may or must+have pp seems to not convey the speaker's concept. Several other example can be put forward like, as you will have noticed by now your teacher has changed his glasses. Like these two examples we sometimes use would have pp to express our certaninty which is out of coverage of may and must have pp structure. In this structure our level of certaintuy places way above may or might and a little bit lesser than must, but none of these two can play the exact role of "would". Would have pp reflects very high probability from speaker's point of view. For example; my parents were not so passionate with me, i always thought they would have prefered to have a girl rather than a boy. Please guide me, thank you

Hello aria rousta,

I wouldn't call the uses of 'will have' and 'would have' that you mention 'guesses', but rather as 'deductions' or 'suppositions'. As you say, they express a greater degree of certainty than do 'might have' or 'may have'. I suppose that one could call statements made with 'will have' and 'would have' as 'guesses', but that's not what I meant, and I'm sorry if this caused you any confusion.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir Regarding "would have+ pp", i guess this structure can use to reflect some kind of our geuss or possibility in the past. For example this sentence; "the ancient discovered statue would have belonged to on of Romen's god." . From my point of view it would be meaningless if we interpret it as a something possible in the past but not happend. Please guide me and if there is more contents in this respect, let me know where i can find them.thank you

Hello aria rousta,

'would have' + past participle usually speaks about something that did not happen, but which could have happened if, for example, the situation had been different.

In English, we don't use 'would have' + past participle to speak about a guess about something in the past -- instead we use 'might have' (or 'may have') + past participle. For example, if I saw a man yesterday that I thought was your brother, I could say 'The man might have been your brother' to express this idea. Notice that we are making this guess in the present, but it's speaking about the past.

If I see an ancient statue and think it is a statue of a Roman god, I'd typically say something like 'This statue might be of a Roman god' or, if I feel fairly confident that it is of a Roman god, 'This status must be of a Roman god'.

I'd suggest you have a look at our Modals – deductions about the past and Modals – deductions about the present pages.

I hope this helps you make more sense of it. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I don't quite understand what the word "happened" means. If we say that something (for example an action) happened/occurred in the past, does this mean that this action commenced and finished in the past? Meaning to say (a) "happened (aka occurred)" = commenced and finished, or does (b) "happened (aka occurred)" just mean that the action commenced in the past but gives no indication that the action also completed in the past? which meaning (a) or (b) is correct?

Hello rikimaru

I think that your question is more about the past simple form (in this case, 'happened' or 'occurred') than about the verbs 'happen' or 'occur', but if I have misunderstood you, please correct me.

The past simple refers to an action that began and finished in the past. Beyond this, it is quite indefinite -- for example, it could refer to 6 billion years ago or it could refer to just moments ago.

Other verb forms (e.g. 'was happening', 'had happened', 'has happened') have different meanings, but I don't think these are what you are asking about. If I am wrong, however, please let us know.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

My question is about both, I think. So firstly, simple past tense simply refers to an action or event which happened (i.e. began and ended) in the past, correct? Secondly, "happened" equals "began and ended"? Thirdly, if I say something happened, by default, it means this thing started and ended in the past? What then if I say something happened at a specific time, like at 6.30 pm (i.e. something happened at 6.30pm), does it then mean that this thing started and ended at 6.30pm, or just that this thing started at 6.30pm but no clear indication of when it ended (in other words, does "happened" encompass both the start and end of the action, or just the start)?

Hello Rikimaru,

I'd say that the past simple is the default tense we use to speak about the past -- the other tenses include additional information about the event that the past simple generally doesn't.

As far as I understand it, a past simple verb always refers to an action that began in the past, though that action isn't necessarily finished yet. For example, in the Wikipedia entry for 'Big Bang', the second sentence reads:

The model describes how the universe expanded from an initial state of extremely high density and high temperature, and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, and large-scale structure.

Note the word 'expanded' -- here the expansion clearly began in the past, but, as far as I understand it, the universe is still expanding and is expected to continue to do so for quite some time. Here this past simple form clearly refers to an event that is not finished.

I'm sorry if my earlier comment, in which I said that the past simple refers to 'an action that began and ended in the past', was confusing in this regard. I often explain the past simple this way when comparing it to other past forms (e.g. the past continuous), but it can be misleading to say it that way.

As for your third point, the past simple in itself doesn't specify the duration of the event. We generally rely on common understandings of how actions occur or use other verb forms or adverbials to specify such things, but usually only if it's necessary to do so.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Is it OK to use present tense to describe objects that existed in the past? Example: Assume, for this example, that bullock carts don't exist nowadays but they were used a few decades ago. Is it OK to describe them as following using present tense in sentences? Bullock cart has two wheels that move around an axle. It is usually pulled by two oxen. However, there are bullock carts that use only one ox. Most of the bullock cart is made of wood. Or, should I use past tense as following? Bullock cart had two wheels that moved around an axle. It was usually pulled by two oxen. However, there were bullock carts that used only one ox. Most of the bullock cart was made of wood.

Hello vsm

Yes, you can use present tense forms like this, though past tense forms are also commonly used. Which is more appropriate depends on your purpose and perspective. If it were for an encyclopedia entry, for example, I'd suggest looking at some available online to how they use the tenses there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! We say, ' The rabbit has been caught', why we use "been"? It could also be like this, The rabbit has caught.

Hello again Sidra_

'has been caught' is the verb 'catch' in the present perfect; it is also a passive verb here. It means that someone or something has caught the rabbit. If you say 'The rabbit caught' it means the rabbit got something, e.g. 'The rabbit caught the cricket'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

sir-this is regarding reported speech : I remember you answering to one of my questions about reported speech of past continuous and then you said that we can keep the past continuous as it is and no need to in back to past perfect continuous. I don't remember that sentence. But on your reported speech page you ask us to change past continuous to past perfect. Would you help me understand when can we keep past continuous as it is without changing it to past perfect continuous. Regards Dipak Gandhi

Hello Dipak Gandhi

In general, the rule on our reported speech page is true, i.e. in general, you should change past continuous to past perfect in reported speech. I don't remember the specific sentence you asked about in another comment, but I suppose it was a specific situation in which an exception to that general rule was possible.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Неllo again,Team! Your example : "He broke his leg when he was playing rugby", - if we replaced 'he was plaing' by 'he played' , ' He broke his leg when he played rugby', how would that change the meaning of the sentence ? Would this mean,for example, that he broke his leg in one of the games which he played in the past?, Or maybe I again overcomplicate these things?

Hello Slava B,

Both forms are possible, but there is a difference in meaning.

If we use the continuous form (was playing) then we mean that the accident happened during a game.

If we use the simple form (played) then we only know that the accident happened during the period of his life when he was a rugby player. Of course, we might expect that it took place during a game because of the context, but the sentence does not explicity tell us that.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! Could someone, please, explain to me: how we use future tenses when the narration is about the past. Eg: (autobiography: He was born [...] then he marries [...] he will become [a writer]. Other words can we use past, present, and future in a narrative and what are the rules except those mentioned in the article. Is it possible for fiction literature. Thank you!

Hellp Tanusha,

There are several ways to talk about the future in the past - in other words, looking forward from a position in the past, as is often done in biographies. You could use 'would', for example:

Paul will be a great writer. [future prediction]

Even at school, everyone knew Paul would be a great writer. [future in the past]

Similar forms exist using going to (is going to > was going to) and the present continuous for future reference (is verbing > was verbing).

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello:) I’m still unable to use the present perfect and the simple past properly even though my answers to these exercises were correct. For instance, I don’t know whether saying “I have sat for the exams, but I didn’t do well on all of them” is more correct than saying “I have sat for the exams, but I haven’t done well on all of them.” Shouldn’t both verbs be in the present perfect?

Hello 1Esmaa1

Learning the differences between these two tenses is indeed a challenge, so be patient with yourself. In this case, and in others, both cases can be correct. Which one is better depends on how the speaker sees the situation. Generally speaking, if you use the present perfect, you see the action as somehow touching the present moment. For example, imagine you are sitting at the table looking at the exam results and are feeling disappointed. In this case, you might use the present perfect since the results are affecting you in that moment.

You could also use the past simple, however, and this might make more sense if you felt some kind of distance from your exam results -- it could express that you feel as if there's nothing you can do about the exams or that you want to forget them.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I don't know why, but I'm not findings as much as satisfaction in learning German as I ....... when I started the program. 1. had done 2. have done 3. did 4. was doing past continuous when simple past simple past when simple past past perfect when simple past
Hello amirfd, I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions like this. We're happy to explain the information on our own pages, or to answer more general questions about the English language where possible, but we don't provide an answer service for questions from elsewhere. If we did, soon we would end up doing users' homework for them! ~ I can tell you to look at the time relationships in the sentence. You have two times here: present ('I'm not finding') and past ('when I started'). You need to decide when the third action happens: before the past action or at the same time as/after the past action. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Hello.I ask two question that i tried to figure out. One is: "A recent study, *was published which in the British Dental Journal, *focuses on a comperative analysis of the skulls of modern day people and two sets of older skulls." I think it should have been "is published" and "has focused" words after *. Why not? How can we use past tense and present tense together in one sentence. Thank you.

Hello baburbb,

The act of publishing was in the past. It is one act which is done at a particular moment, so the past tense is used.

The study itself has an ongoing existence and so we use a present tense to describe what it does/says/claims etc.

If you had a different verb than 'publish' you might use a present form. For example:

A recent study can be read in the British...

A recent study which is available in the British..

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Mr. Peter. But there is one point that i still don't understand. Why is it past tense? Is there any sign? Is it about with word "publish" ?

Hello baburbb,

In your sentence, the verb publish refers to the act of creating a book/journal/magazine etc. Before the book is available to buy it is not published; when it is available is has been published. The act of publishing, in your sentence, happened in the past.

Here is another example:

Melville’s sixth book, Moby-Dick, was first published in October 1851 in London.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello paris-sorbonne

Without knowing more about the text, I can't really say more about this specific instance, I'm afraid, but as you suggest, it looks as if it would indeed be correct to use the past perfect tense here. Often, when the context is clear people use a simpler form (such as the past simple here), especially in speaking. Perhaps that is why the writer chose to use it here.

Hope this helps!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear, teachers I understand the difference now.Thank you so much. But I just remember and I am confuse again. If you don't mind, I ask again: You said that we use Past perfect Continues when the cooking was done when I arrived. But, Can we use past perfect (my mother had cooked the dinner when I arrived) to say that? I thaught that we are supposed to use "had been cooking" to say how long the cooking had been done when I arrived. Am I wrong?thank you.

Hi jiyi,

First of all, I just wanted to clarify that there are many situations when the past perfect continuous could be used; my example was just one. Others are certainly possible, though.

If you used the past perfect simple here, it would be grammatically correct, but which form is best really depends on how you are imagining that moment in the past and what purpose you have in saying it. Without knowing what you want to communicate, it's difficult to recommend a specific form. For example, imagine I'd brought home some dinner because it was Mother's Day and I wanted my mother to have a break from cooking. In this case, I'd probably say something like 'My mother had already cooked dinner when I arrived.'

I'm not sure if this is going to help you. I'm sorry about this -- it's just difficult to recommend or explain a specific form without knowing much more about the context or speaker's intentions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teachers, I would like to ask about these two sentences : She was cooking when I arrived. She had been cooking when I arrived. are those sentence correct ?if they are correct, do they have the same meaning? If they don't, please help me tyo understand why. Thank you, teachers. :)