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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

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Past tense 2

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Comments

I meant "when I was in China"

Can you please help me? which variant is correct:
Did you eat anything interesting in China?
or
Have you eaten anything interesting in China?
and why?
thanks a lot)

Hi elena108108,

Both questions are grammatically correct, and they have different meanings.

The first question is in the past simple. It refers to a past time that is finished, e.g. Did you eat anything interesting when you went to China last year / in 2018? 

The second question is in the present perfect. This is used for unfinished time periods. If you ask Have you eaten anything interesting in China?, the person you are speaking to is probably in China right now, i.e. the time period for the action continues up to and includes the present moment. (The past simple question, on the other hand, probably means that the person you are speaking to is not in China any more, i.e. that time period is now finished.)

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot! now it's clear :)

What does Lean Toward mean? I have looked up some online dictionaries but they aren't comprehensible to me. Could you please give me some examples of it?

Hi amit_ck,

Lean means to move your head or the top part of your body closer to something. Your legs and feet stay in the same place. Towards shows the direction of the movement (i.e. what you are going to reach or touch). Here are some examples.

  • He leaned towards her because he couldn't hear her clearly.
  • If I cannot see the computer screen clearly, I lean towards the screen.

 

Apart from that physical meaning, lean towards is also used figuratively, with a similar meaning: to move towards something in your feelings, interests or preferences.

For example:

  • I haven't decided which university to apply to yet, but I'm leaning towards New University.
  • The designers usually lean towards bright, bold colours.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you

Hello,

Can someone explain to me why "I'm sorry, WERE you WAITING for me" is a polite expression instead of something real in the past because I'm sorry isn't highlighted but the WERE and WAITING are. Doesn't this mean that we should answering considering those 2 words instead of I'm sorry?

Hello Yash,

The speaker here has a choice. They could say either of these:

'...were you waiting for me?'

'...are you waiting for me?'

Both are grammatically correct, and so we cannot say that the action is in the past.

The past form is less direct and this makes it a little more polite. Obviously, saying 'I'm sorry' adds further politeness.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I understand now. Thank you!

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