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Past Time

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When we talk about an event/s or situation/s that took place in the past there are different verb forms or tenses that we can use.

The past simple

We use the past simple when we are talking about an event that happened at one particular point/time in the past:
We woke up early because of our flight.
The train left at midnight.

The past simple is also used to talk about something that continued for some time in the past:
We lived in the countryside for the first ten years of my life.
I worked hard through the summer.

When we talk about something that happened several times in the past we use the past simple.
When we were in Rome most evenings we went out for dinner at a different restaurant.
Last summer I went for a swim every morning.

But we can also use ‘used to’.
Last summer I used to go for a swim every morning.
Or would
Last summer I would go for a swim every morning.

However would is not used with stative verbs.
As a child I was very shy. As a child I used to be very shy. NOT As a child I would be very shy.

Past continuous

We use the past continuous when we are talking about something which happened before and after a given time in the past.
It was almost eleven o’clock. Peter was watching the news on TV.
I stopped watching the game when we were losing 4-0.

We use the past continuous when we are talking about something happening before or after another action in the past.
He broke his leg while he was skiing in France.
She met John while they were both jogging in the park.

A past action from the past

When we look back from the past to a point in time earlier (before) in the past we use the past perfect.
When I finally got to my car I realise that I had left the keys in my office.
I had been in Paris for three weeks when I met Sarah.

The past and present

When we are talking about effects in the present of something that happened in the past we use the present perfect.
I can’t call Peter. I’ve forgotten my phone at home.
Peter has found a new job. He works as a chef in a classy restaurant.

When we are talking about something that started in the past and still goes on we use the present perfect.
I’ve lived here all my life.
I’ve been working at the airport for five years now.

Would as the past of will

When we talk about a point closer to the present from a point later in the past we use would/was (were) going to/the past continuous.

We thought we would go to Thailand the next year.
Peter was going to follow us in his car.
We were going to set off for the lake the next morning.
It was June. Peter was preparing for the start of the summer season.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Now choose the correct form for the following:

  • 1. The lights went out when I _ on the final draft of my thesis.

  • 2. After I _ a really good meal I went for a walk.

  • 3. He _ his bike and walked into the shop.

  • 4. He _ without saying goodbye.

  • 5. When Sarah walked in I _ TV.

  • 6. I remember standing in front of the coliseum and thinking that it was the most amazing thing I _ in my life.

  • 7. They _ here for a week now.