You are here

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 jitu_jaga,

When we express a point of view or an opinion we use the simple form, whether in the present or past:

I think this is a great film!

I thought he was very nice last night.


When we want to use 'think' to mean 'consider' then we can use the continuous form:

I'm thinking about buying a new car.

She was thinking of changing her job, but in the end she decided to stay where she was.


Occasionally, you can find examples of the continous form used to emphasise an opinion which changed, but this is quite unusual:

I was thinking it was a good film until I saw the ending.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Dear Peter. Have a nice day..

He smelt strongly of rum.
Is smelt a verb in this sentence.

Thank you

Hello sumanasc

Yes, it is a past simple form. You can find this kind of information in a good dictionary (follow the link).

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

I need to know the verbs in the following sentences. I think they are, smelt, filled, squawking and circling. please let me know whether I am correct.

The air smelt of wood smoke and my ears were filled with the sound of squawking birds circling above.
Thank you

Hello sumansc,

Those verbs seem fine to me.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teachers, i noticed this entence : sorry to keep you waiting . If i was gonna use it in the past could i rewrite that in the following way: i was sorry to keep you waiting or i am supposed to write that like this : i am sorry to have kept you waiting .

Thanks in advance, i hope you will be fine.

Hello rosario70

Both are possible, but are slightly different in meaning. The first one means that you felt sorry in the past -- you could also say 'I was sorry to have kept you waiting' but there's not much difference between it and your first suggestion -- and the second one means that you feel sorry now.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you help me, please?
1- When I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, I sunbathed a lot.
If I used "would sunbathe" instead of "sunbathed", would that change the meaning?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

It would essentially mean the same thing, since you use 'a lot' in the first version. Though 'would' would imply it was a habit, whereas the simple past is not as specific -- it could be just what happened, rather than being a habit, for example.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team