The WYSS Website / Die WYSS Webseiten / Na Leathanaigh WYSS
Home / Heim / Abhaile
Lern- und Übungsmaterial für Englisch / Learning and Training Material for English


 

THE PAST TENSE IN ENGLISH

 

THE PAST SIMPLE:


The past simple is used to refer to finished periods or moments of time. It refers to a definite past.
 

1.     With direct references to the time of the event (time adverbials)

Thus, it is often used with time adverbials such as yesterday, long ago, in 1985, earlier today,
at six o clock this morning, the last time, the first time
, etc.
Compare the following:

When did you see Hamlet at our theatre? ~ Two weeks ago.

The first time I visited Russia was twenty years ago and the last time was last spring.

We bought this house in 1996 and extended it at the back last year.

When did you last speak to your father? ~ I spoke to him on the phone this morning.
 

2.     With indirect references to the time of the event (place adverbials)

Other examples may not mention a particular time in the past, but it is clear that the speaker is thinking
of a definite time in the past:

Where did you get those coffee tables? ~ I got them at an antique shop in the High Street.

Fritz is back from his holidays. He was in Greece.

The past simple can also be used to refer to repeated events in the past or to express a past state or habit:

I grew up in Fife in Scotland. Before I  went to school very small, we lived in a cottage by the sea
and I played on the
strand in the summer.

 

 It is clear already from the first sentence that the speaker is no longer a child.

 

3.     Narration (stories and reports - one event after another)

In a story or report we use the Past Simple for actions or events that follow one another.
The sequence of events is also evidence of the fact that each single event is over.


Fritz drank up, fetched his coat, said goodbye to his cronies and left the pub.

As soon as Susan got home, she went to the library and did her homework. After that she played a few pieces on the piano.

THE PAST CONTINUOUS:                                                                  BACK TO TOP / NACH OBEN / GO BARR

1. The Past Continuous is seldom used alone.

Our company was still running up losses two years ago.

The contrast is here only understood, namely that it has made profits since then.
 

2. Parallel Actions

When two verbs in a sentences are in the Past Continuous with events in the same sentence expresses the idea that both actions were happening at the same time. The actions are parallel.
 

I was studying while he was making dinner.

While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching television.

 

Past Simple and Continuous

 

1. Situation and New Event

Use the Past Continuous for a situation  (a single event of open but limited duration in the past)
but the Past Simple for a new event.

The situation can be seen as a kind of time frame or background for the new event,
and the new event may or may not interrupt or change the situation.

 

I was reading a book when the telephone rang.

The telephone rang while I was reading a book.

While I was reading a book, the telephone suddenly rang.

The past continuous may be in the main clause or in the subordinate clause.
The subordinate clause may come first or follow the main clause. :
However, the meaning of the above sentences is the same, the difference is only in the stress.

FURTHER EXAMPLES:

I was watching a game of football on the telly when she called.

When the phone rang, Susan was doing her homework in English.

While we were having dinner at the inn, two fiddlers came in to play a few tunes.

Fritz was sawing firewood
when Joe had the car accident.

While Charles and Pamela were sleeping last night, someone broke into their house and stole some pictures, jewellery and silver.

                  BACK TO TOP / NACH OBEN / GO BARR               

                                                                    2004 by R.WYSS