Past tenses in English
This page looks at the different ways of expressing past time in English.
The currently popular view of modern linguistics argues that there is only one past tense in English, the "past". This can be very confusing for students, whether they are native speakers or learners of English.
For this reason, the Linguapress English grammar prefers to consider the idea of "tense" from the historic and pragmatic viewpoint, that there are three past tenses in English (footnote) - one simple tense and two compound tenses. .
The three past tenses of English all have simple and progressive forms, as illustrated below. These tenses can be used in the active, as in the examples on this page, or the passive.
|Index :||The simple past||The present perfect||The
All of these forms can also be used with a progressive aspect.
Forms of past tenses : sample verb make
1. Simple active forms
|I||you||he she it one||we||you||they|
|Present perfect||have made||has made||have made|
|Past perfect||had made|
|I||you||he she it one||we||you||they|
|Simple past||was making||were making|
|Present perfect||have been making||has been making||have been making|
|Past perfect||had been making|
Look at English grammar with Linguapress. Simple rules, clear examples.
an adverb (or adverb phrase) of time, such as yesterday, or a date or time.
1) Queen Victoria died in 1901.
2) The Titanic sank when it hit an iceberg.
3) I told you not to drink too much
4) Next, they went and cooked dinner.
1.1. Simple past - progressive or continuous forms:
examples with a progressive or continuous form
too: both of the events in each sentence are "historic", but one took
while another longer-lasting situation
5) John Lennon died while he was living in New York.
6) The students shouted as the President was speaking.
1) 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, the present
perfect (which Samuel Johnson called, perhaps more
appropriately, the compound
preterite) is used to situate past
events, or the consequences of past events, in relation to
situation (that's why linguists call it the "present"
Americans do not always use the present perfect in this situation.
1. I have ordered a new refrigerator, darling!
(i.e., the speaker means "A new refrigerator is coming and will be here soon").
2. I've eaten too much!
(i.e. the speaker implies: "At this moment now, I do not feel very well; I have a funny feeling in my stomach!)
3. Manchester United have won the Cup
(i.e. Manchester United are now, at this moment , football champions).
You do not usually find adverbs of time used with verbs in the present perfect, but there are some exceptions:
2. adverbs of frequency:
3. adverbs or adverb phrases of duration related to the present:
2. I've often seen people driving too fast down that road.
3. I've lived in London for ten years.
(Contrast with: I lived in London for ten years (but I don't live there now) - a historic statement)
4. I've lived in London since 1985.
5. I've been living in London since 1985. (Both of these forms are acceptable)
6. Up to now, I've always refused to eat fish.
2.1. Present-perfect progressive or present-perfect continuous:
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
The doctor has been seeing patients for most of the afternoon.
He had seen, 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 past than another past event. In some situations, the progressive or continuous form is necessary.
I had just put the phone down, when the doorbell rang.
The man had been drinking before the accident happened.
He had worked in the company for five years before he got promotion.
Comparative grammar: Using past tenses in French:
For an overview of this linguistic argument, see The Present perfect : present tense or past tense ?