Today we will look at some ways of using the past tense in English.
There are many ways to talk about the past in English. It can be confusing for English learners to know which form of the past tense to use.
Today we will explore two different forms of the past tense:
- the simple past
- the past progressive
1. The Simple Past
We use this to describe:
- An action or actions in the past
“I had an orange for breakfast.”
“I saw my brother at the supermarket.”
“They cleaned the cars.”
- Actions that happened in a sequence
“I watched the movie and then walked home.”
“She bought the groceries and carried them to her car.”
“You gave him the letter and then left?”
- Actions that happened in the middle of other actions
“I was relaxing on the sofa when she came home.”
“The kids were playing tennis when the rain started.”
“The burglar stole their TV while they were sleeping.”
To make the simple past, use the past tense (e.g. spoke, ate) and not the past participle (e.g. spoken, eaten).
“I watched him walk away.”
To make the negative simple past, use did not + infinitive.
“He did not study for the exam.”
“I did not know the news.”
To make the negative simple past in spoken English, you should use “didn’t”.
“We didn’t have time to visit you.”
2. The Past Progressive
Use this to describe:
- An action that was happening in the past
“I was listening to the radio.”
“She was describing her holiday.”
“We were waiting for two hours.”
- Two or more actions that were happening at the same time
“He was watching TV while she was washing the dishes.”
“The boys were waiting at the beach but the girls were waiting at the mall.”
“The students were studying but the teachers were drinking coffee and talking.”
- A past action that gets interrupted by a different action or event
“I was sleeping until the phone rang.”
“He was driving home when the car skidded.”
“She was sitting quietly when the man entered the room.”
To make the past progressive, use the past tense of “to be” and the continuous form of a verb.
Subject (I/You/He/She/It/We/You/They) + to be past form (was/were) + continuous form of verb (verb-ing)
“He was eating sushi.”
“We were playing golf.”
“I was expecting a phone call.”
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