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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



Could you please clarify which tense I could use in this sentence please as I am confused as to which tense best suits to talk about a past event like this which leaves the result in the present: "No one knows exactly how the planets come/ came/ have come/ had come into being" thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

The most appropriate verb form here is the past simple:

No-one knows how the planets came into being.


We don't consider the existence of the planets to be a present result here. Unless the consequence is an identifiable particular change in the present (something new), we do not tend to use the present perfect in contexts like this.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you

Could you please tell me what’s wrong my sentence? sir I need your help. thank you.
“Two weeks ago I tested my level on The result was shown that my level is Intermediate. “

Hello amit_ck,

The problem is in the second sentence. You need an active verb, not a passive form:

'...the result showed that my level is intermediate.'



The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please help us?
I told him that we ……….. any more people today.
a) hadn’t interviewed b) aren’t interviewing
Is "today" an indicator to choose "b"?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both forms are possible here. 'Hadn't interviewed' would tell us about the time before you told him; 'aren't interviewing' would tell us about your plans later today.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Which sentence is correct first or the second? Please let me know.
If my grandfather had lived up to ninety years he would be a very old man.
If my grandfather had lived up to ninety years he would have been a very old man.
I think the first one is correct because it is a fact. Please let me know.
Thank you.

Hi Lal,

Both can be correct -- it depends on the context. If, for example, today were his birthday, the first one would express the idea that today he would be a very old man. The second sentence would be better for speaking about the past, however, because the conditional perfect ('would have been') makes it clear you are speaking about a hypothetical past situation. This would make more sense if, for example, his birthday were earlier this month.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please help me to clarify this. When using past tense one can use only past tense unlike present tense one can use present , past and future I am I correct?Now I would like to know whether this sentence right or wrong. e.g. Yesterday
I met your boss and he told me that you are doing all right. Is this sentence correct? This sentence is a combination of present and past but whole thing is something happened in the past. Please let me this sentence right or wrong.
Thank you..