This page looks at the different ways of expressing past time in
English. The three past tenses of English all have simple and
progressive forms, as illustrated below. They can also be formed in the
active, as in the examples on this page, or the passive
English uses three
forms of the past, the Simple Past (or preterite), the
Present Perfect, and the past perfect, sometimes called the
All of these forms can also be used in a progressive
This is used to relate past events in a historic context.
you will know that it must be used, because the sentence also contains
an adverb (or adverb
phrase) of time,
such as yesterday, or a date or time.
Queen Victoria died in
it hit an iceberg.
you not to drink too much
Past progressive or past
examples with a progressive or continuous form
too: both of the events in the sentence are "historic", but one took
while another longer-lasting situation was true:
5) John Lennon died
while he was
in New York.
as the President
would - the
past of finished situation or finished habit
To express a finished
habit, or terminated
situation, there are two possible structures, one with used to, the other
To express a terminated
situation, only the structure with used to
can be used. Terminated situation can also be expressed using the
simple past often reinforced by an adverb of duration or of time. These
structures only exist in the active mood.
I used to
go to Brighton when I was a child. But I don't any longer.
2) He would
call her every day when she was younger, but he doesn't now
3) This streeet used to be
very quiet; but nowadays
it's full of traffic.
4) This street was
once very quiet,
but nowadays it's full of traffic.
English, this is used to situate past
events, or the consequences of past events, in relation to
situation. (that's why we call it the "present" perfect).
do not always use the present perfect in this situation.
1) I have ordered a new refrigerator,
the speaker means "A new refrigerator
will be here soon").
2) I've eaten too much!
speaker implies: "At this
moment now, I do not feel very
I have a funny feeling in my stomach!)
3) Manchester United have won the
now, at this moment , football champions).
do not usually find adverbs of time
used with verbs in the present perfect, but there are some exceptions:
Come on, we've already
people driving too fast down
or adverb phrases of duration related to the present:
lived in London for
lived in London for ten years
(but I don't live there now) - a historic statement)
lived in London since
living in London since
(Both of these forms are acceptable)
to now, I've
always refused to
progressive forms are used when we want to imply that an event / events
in the past have been continuing until the present point in time, or
have taken place over a period of time in the past
4) I've been waiting for
you since three o'clock.
(► Cross reference:
since and for)
5) The doctor has been
seeing patients for most of the afternoon.
past perfect or pluperfect.
past perfect or pluperfect, as in He
is normally only used
in English when one past event (either a specific action, or a contuous
condition) has to be situated in a more distant
than another past event. In some situations, the progressive
or continuous form is necessary.
just put the phone down, when the doorbell rang.
some other uses too, but they are less
common. Note, for example, the use of the past perfect (and inversion)
The man had
before the accident happened.
in the company for five years before he got promotion.
I put the phone down, than the phone rang.
Comparative grammar: Using
past tenses in French:
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