Essential ENGLISH GRAMMAR - Verbs.
The 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 most confusing for students, whether they are native speakers or learners of English.
For this reason, the Linguapress English grammar prefers the historic and pragmatic view 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.
All of these forms can also be used with a progressive aspect.
Forms of past tenses : sample verb make
1. Simple active forms
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 the sentence are "historic", but one took
while another longer-lasting situation was true:
Examples:finished habit, or terminated situation or action, there are two additional possible structures, one with used to, the other with would. 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.
5) John Lennon died while he was living in New York.
6) The students shouted as the President was speaking.
Examples:For more on this, see: Problem words - Used to.
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"
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:
1. Come on, we've already started eating !
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
I've been waiting for you since three o'clock.(► Cross reference: since and for)
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.
Examples:There are some other uses too, but they are less common. Note, for example, the use of the past perfect (and inversion) after hardly :
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.
Hardly had I put the phone down, than the phone rang.
Comparative grammar: Using past tenses in French:
For an overview of this linguistic argument, see The Present perfect : present tense or past tense ?