Past Simple Tense (I did)
We use this tense in English to talk about events or situations that are finished. Normally we use a time reference.
"Last year I went to Spain."
"In 1997, he changed his job."
"She called an hour ago."
We also use the Past Simple tense in English to talk about long-lasting events or situations in the past.
"When I was a child, I lived in the countryside."
To talk about repeated activites in the past, we also use the Past Simple.
"I often went to the beach as a child."
Past Continuous Tense ("I was doing")
There are three main uses of this tense:
1. To talk about what was happening at a particular time in the past and to give descriptions and background information.
2. To talk about temporary situations in the past.
3. To make polite requests.
1. Talking about what was happening at a particular time in the past.
"This time yesterday, I was reading a book."
We often use the Past Continuous tense with the Past Simple tense. The Past Continuous gives the background to an event in the Past Simple:
"When he got home, the children were playing in the garden." (The children started playing in the garden before he got home.)
"I was eating dinner when there was a knock on the door." (The knock on the door came in the middle of my meal.)
We can use the Past Continuous to give descriptions.
"The girl was wearing a yellow dress. She was eating ice-cream and was watching television."
2. Talking about temporary situations in the past.
"When I was living in London, I often went to the theatre." (Living in London was temporary – perhaps I only lived there for a short while.)
Compare with: "When I was a child I lived in the countryside." Living in the countryside was a longer event – I was a child for more than a couple of years. For more permanent situations, we use the Past Simple tense.
3. Making polite requests.
If we want to make polite requests, we can use the Past Continuous tense. This is because we put a distance between ourselves and the person we are asking.
"I was wondering if you had time to see me."
"I was hoping we could discuss a pay raise."
[has/have + past participle]
- You have seen that movie many times.
- Have you seen that movie many times?
- You have not seen that movie many times.
USE 1 Unspecified Time Before Now
We use the Present Perfect to say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important. You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with specific time expressions such as: yesterday, one year ago, last week, when I was a child, when I lived in Japan, at that moment, that day, one day, etc. We CAN use the Present Perfect with unspecific expressions such as: ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, etc.
- I have seen that movie twenty times.
- I think I have met him once before.
- There have been many earthquakes in California.
- People have traveled to the Moon.
- People have not traveled to Mars.
- Have you read the book yet?
- Nobody has ever climbed that mountain.
- A: Has there ever been a war in the United States?
B: Yes, there has been a war in the United States.
How Do You Actually Use the Present Perfect?
The concept of "unspecified time" can be very confusing to English learners. It is best to associate Present Perfect with the following topics:
TOPIC 1 Experience
You can use the Present Perfect to describe your experience. It is like saying, "I have the experience of..." You can also use this tense to say that you have never had a certain experience. The Present Perfect is NOT used to describe a specific event.
- I have been to France.
This sentence means that you have had the experience of being in France. Maybe you have been there once, or several times.
- I have been to France three times.
You can add the number of times at the end of the sentence.
- I have never been to France.
This sentence means that you have not had the experience of going to France.
- I think I have seen that movie before.
- He has never traveled by train.
- Joan has studied two foreign languages.
- A: Have you ever met him?
B: No, I have not met him.
TOPIC 2 Change Over Time
We often use the Present Perfect to talk about change that has happened over a period of time.
- You have grown since the last time I saw you.
- The government has become more interested in arts education.
- Japanese has become one of the most popular courses at the university since the Asian studies program was established.
- My English has really improved since I moved to Australia.
TOPIC 3 Accomplishments
We often use the Present Perfect to list the accomplishments of individuals and humanity. You cannot mention a specific time.
- Man has walked on the Moon.
- Our son has learned how to read.
- Doctors have cured many deadly diseases.
- Scientists have split the atom.
TOPIC 4 An Uncompleted Action You Are Expecting
We often use the Present Perfect to say that an action which we expected has not happened. Using the Present Perfect suggests that we are still waiting for the action to happen.
- James has not finished his homework yet.
- Susan hasn't mastered Japanese, but she can communicate.
- Bill has still not arrived.
- The rain hasn't stopped.
[had + past participle]
- You had studied English before you moved to New York.
- Had you studied English before you moved to New York?
- You had not studied English before you moved to New York.
USE 1 Completed Action Before Something in the Past
The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.
- I had never seen such a beautiful beach before I went to Kauai.
- I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.
- Tony knew Istanbul so well because he had visited the city several times.
- Had Susan ever studied Thai before she moved to Thailand?
- She only understood the movie because she had read the book.
- Kristine had never been to an opera before last night.
- We were not able to get a hotel room because we had not booked in advance.
- A: Had you ever visited the U.S. before your trip in 2006?
B: Yes, I had been to the U.S. once before.
- CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW TO PRACTISE WITH ON-LINE EXERCISES:
- EXERCISE ONE
- EXERCISE TWO
- EXERCISE THREE
- EXERCISE FOUR