Past Tenses

Past Simple

  • FORM
    • Positive

      Negative

      I/You/We/They/He/She/It arrived.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It went.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It didn't (did not) arrive.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It didn't (did not) go.

      Question

      Short answer

      Did he go?
      Yes, he did. / No, he didn't.
  • Function
    • Finished actions and situations in the past.

      e.g. I lived in England when I was younger.
      e.g. She didn't pass her exam last year.
      e.g. Who did you see at the party last night?
      present continuous
  • Help
    • Regular verbs in the past simple end in ed
      Examples:
      wanted, finished, hoped etc...

      If a regular verb ends in a consonant +y, the y changes to i before the ending ed.
      Examples:
      try/tried, study/studied

      The pronunciation of the ed at the end of regular verbs can vary. Most regular verbs end with the sound /d/ in their past forms.
      Examples:
      followed, played, repaired, moved

      When the ed follows the sounds ss, p, sh, x, k, ch, the end of the verb is pronounced /t/.
      Examples:
      missed, hoped, finished, mixed, worked, watched

      If the ed follows the letters t or d, the ed ending is pronounced as an extra syllable /Id/
      Examples:
      wanted, stated, needed, mended

      For a list of verbs which have irregular past simple forms, click on Useful Information and then click on Table of Irregular Verbs.

      We often use the past simple tense with phrases such as last week, last year, yesterday, in 1993, two weeks ago, when I was young.
      Examples:
      We moved to London in 2002.
      Did you speak to the neighbours yesterday?

Past Continuous

  • Form
    • Positive

      Negative

      I/He/She/It was working.
      You/We/They were working.
      I/He/She/It wasn't (was not) working.
      You/We/They weren't (were not) working.

      Question

      Short answer

      Was she working?
      Were you working?
      Yes, she was. / No, she wasn't.
      Yes, we were. / No, we weren't.
  • Function
    • To describe an action in progress in the past when another happened.

      e.g. He was driving his car when he saw the accident.

      To describe an action in progress at a specific time in the past.

      e.g. This time last week I was lying on a beach in Spain.
      present continuous
  • Help
    • It is very common to use the past continuous and the past simple together in the same sentence. The past continuous expresses an activity in progress when another, simple action happened.

      Example:
      He was painting the ceiling when he fell off the ladder.
      In the example, the activity of painting was in progress when the man fell.

      We often use the words when and while to link the two parts of the sentence.

      Example:
      I cut my finger while I was preparing the meal.
      We were waiting at the airport when they arrived.

      While can only go with the part of the sentence containing the past continuous. When can go before the past simple or the past continuous.

      We use the past continuous with actions. We do not usually use it with state verbs. For more information on state verbs, click on Present Tenses and then on Present Continuous.

Past Perfect Simple

  • FORM
    • Positive

      Negative

      I’d / You’d / He’d / She’d / It’d / We’d / They’d (had) arrived.
      I’d / You’d / He’d / She’d / It’d / We’d / They’d (had) gone.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It hadn't (had not) arrived.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It hadn't
      (had not) gone.

      Question

      Short answer

      Had they arrived?
      Yes, they had. / No, they hadn't.
  • Function
    • Looks back at a time in the past and expresses an action which happened before that time.

      e.g. I told the police I had seen the accident.
      past perfect simple
  • Help
    • You may describe an event that happened in the past using the past simple. For the events you describe which took place before, use the past perfect.
      Example:
      When I got home last night, somebody had broken into my apartment.  (I got home is expressed in the past simple. However, somebody had broken in is expressed in the past perfect. This is because this action happened before I got home).

Past perfect Continuous

  • Form
    • Positive

      Negative

      I’d / You’d / He’d / She’d / It’d / We’d / They’d (had)been working.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It hadn't (had not) been working.

      Question

      Short answer

      Had he been working?
      Yes, he had. / No, he hadn't.
  • Function
    • Looks back at a time in the past and expresses a continuous or repeated action before that time.

      e.g. She was tired because she had been working very hard.
      past perfect continuous
  • Help
    • You may describe an action or situation in the past using the past simple. For continuous or repeated actions which take place until that point in the past, use the past perfect continuous.

      Example:
      He had only been playing football for ten minutes when he broke his leg.
      In this example, he broke his leg is expressed in the past simple. However, He had only been playing is expressed in the past perfect continuous because it describes the activity in progress until that point.

used to + infinitive

  • Form
    • Positive

      Negative

      I/You/We/They/He/She/It used to smoke.
       
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It didn't (did not) use to smoke.

      Question

      Short answer

      Did you use to smoke?
      Yes, I did. / No, I didn't.
  • Function
    • Expresses repeated past habits which are no longer true.

      e.g. I used to have lunch at the school canteen.

      Expresses past states which are no longer true.

      e.g. We used to be members of the drama group.
      used to + infinitive
  • Help
    • Used to + infinitive is used to describe past habits and situations which are not true now.

      Example:
      He used to get up early in the morning. (but he doesn't now)

      This should not be confused with be used to + gerund which describes a current activity which is not new or difficult.

      Example:
      Edward is used to getting up early. (perhaps at first it was difficult but it is not a problem for him now)

Past Tenses Practice Test

Select the best answer to complete the sentences below. Sometimes it may seem that two answers are possible but there is always a BEST answer. Check your score at the end of the test by clicking 'RESULTS'.

Complete each sentence by selecting the best answer


  1. 01. I was playing tennis when suddenly I a sharp pain in my leg.

  2. 02. By the time he was eighteen he a million dollars.

  3. 03. I golf but now that I'm retired I play quite often.

  4. 04. This time last week we across the Atlantic.

  5. 05. They were very expensive shoes. They over £200.

  6. 06. He was worried because he his credit card.

  7. 07. Elvis Presley on the 16th August 1977.

  8. 08. The party very well but then trouble started.

  9. 09. Mary needed a break because she since 8 o'clock that morning.

  10. 10. Freddy in a rock band when he was younger but he doesn't have time for that now.

  11. 11. That shop a few years ago.

  12. 12. The radio was on but nobody to it.

  13. 13. How often abroad last year?

  14. 14. Jane was very happy because she four reports before the end of the day.

  15. 15. Chris Amanda in a bookshop in Cambridge fifteen years ago.

  16. 16. interested in politics when you were a student?

  17. 17. Eleanor was pleased when she passed her driving test because she it five times before.

  18. 18. Gary didn't go to the pub because to stay at the office and finish his report.

  19. 19. I tried to call you yesterday evening but you .

  20. 20. Stephen and Harry were good friends. They each other since they were at school.

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