Grammar: Past Time


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PAST SIMPLE

Form

statement: l/you/he/she/it/we/they played...

negative: l/you/he/she/it/we/they didn't play...

question: Did l/you/he/she/it/we/they play... ?

Use

Example

Single completed actions

Tom and 1 played a game of chess and he won.

Habits in the past

Did you collect stamps when you were younger?

Permanent situations in the past

A famous footballer lived in our house before we bought it.

General truths and facts about the past

Crosswords didn't become popular until the 1930s.

The main events in a story

The referee blew the whistle and Simon passed the ball to James, who ran towards the goal.

We can also use did in past simple statements for emphasis.

  • 'Why didn't you win your match yesterday?" I did win. Who told you I didn't?'
  • We lost 5-0 but at least we did get into the final.

PAST CONTINUOUS

Form

statement:

l/he/she/it was playing...

You/we/they were playing...

negative:

l/he/she/it wasn't playing...

You/we/they weren't playing...

question:

Was l/he/she/it playing... ?

Were you/we/they playing... ?

Use

Example

Actions happening at a particular moment in the past

At five o'clock, 1 was reading my new book.

Temporary situations in the past

Greg was living in London at the time.

Annoying past habits (usually with always)

When we were young, my brother was always borrowing my toys.

Actions in progress over a period of time

Daniel was playing video games all morning yesterday.

Two actions in progress at the same time

Were Ulla and her friends playing Monopoly while we were playing Draughts?

Background information in a story

The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Lisa opened the window and looked out.

When one action in the past interrupts another action in progress, we use the past simple and the past continuous together.

  • I was playing on my computer when it suddenly crashed.

We do not use the past continuous for regular or repeated actions in the past.

  1. When we were on holiday, we played volleyball every day.
  2. X When we were on holiday, we were playing volleyball every day.

We do not usually use stative verbs in continuous tenses.

PAST PERFECT SIMPLE

Form had + past participle

Use

Example

Situations and states before the past

We'd lived next to the gym for a couple of months before 1 decided to join.

Completed actions before a moment in the past

I'd already bought the computer game when 1 saw It was cheaper in another shop.

Completed actions where the important thing is the result at a moment in the past

We didn't feel like playing Scrabble because we had just finished a long game of Monopoly.

There is often little or no difference in meaning between the past perfect simple and the past simple.

  • We'd lived next to the gym for a couple of months before I decided to join.
  • We lived next to the gym for a couple of months before I decided to join.

After we have used the past perfect simple once, we often then use the past simple instead of continuing to use the past perfect.

  • I had already had one flying lesson, which was great fun, and I knew immediately that I wanted to get my pilot's licence.

Phrases such as It was the first/second/etc. time... are followed by the past perfect simple.

  • It was the second time I'd been on a plane.

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS

Use

Example

Actions continuing up to a moment in the past

When you saw us, we had been running for six miles - and we still had a mile to go!

Actions stopping just before a moment in the past

Sarah looked tired because she had been exercising all morning.

WOULD

Form would + bare infinitive

Use

Example

Past habits, particularly for the distant past

When 1 was very young, my grandfather would take me to the park to play.

We don't often use would in questions or negative statements with this meaning. In negative statements, we can use would never.

  • We would never play games together as a family when I was growing up.

USED TO

Form

used to + bare infinitive

statement:

l/you/he/she/it/we/they used to train three times a week

negative:

l/you/he/she/it/we/they didn't use to be good at football.

l/you/he/she/it/we/they never used to be so good at football

l/you/he/she/it/we/they used not to be good at football

question:

Did l/you/he/she/it/we/they use to play hockey here?

Use

Example

Past habits and states, particularly for the distant past

My mother used to play a lot of squash before 1 was born.

To talk about a past state, we can use used to, but not would.

  • / We used to have a house that was right next to the park.
  • X We would have a house that was right next to the park.

BE/GET USED TO        

Form be/get used to + -ing form / noun

Use

Example

A situation that is familiar or no longer strange

/ didn't like being the goalkeeper at first but now I'm used to it.

When we want to talk about the process of becoming familiar with something, we use get used to.

  • I'm gradually getting used to being in a new team.

 

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