Grammar Question: How do we tell stories in English?

The most important thing about telling a story is making it interesting. Nobody wants to sit there and listen to a boring story. Check out this one for instance.

I woke up this morning. I jumped out of bed. I closed the window. I went to work. I came home and went to bed.

Yawn, snore! What an awfully boring story; past simple, past simple, past simple! Terrible. But let’s make it a little more interesting and then have a look at the grammar behind it.

I woke up early this morning. Outside music was playing loudly and the wind was blowing through the trees, the noise had woken me up earlier than usual. I jumped out of my bed, it was freezing in my room because I had left my window open the night before. I was so tired that I had fallen asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I closed my window quickly and ran to the bathroom to have a shower and get warm.

See, with just a few changes, this incredibly boring story starts to come alive. Let’s take a closer look at just how we did that.

(1)

Past continuous

“Music was playing loudly”

We use past continuous here to describe actions happening at the same time as the main action. They are in progress. Some people call them background actions. They can add atmosphere and information to your stories.

(2)

Past Perfect

“The noise had woken me up…”

We use the past perfect here to describe actions that happened before the story or before the main action. These give your stories some background and make them more interesting.

Can you find any other examples of these tenses in the story? Can you see how they work?

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