In the third episode from our grammar mini-series Learn the English Tenses, we will focus on the past simple and continuous.
Check out the other episodes in this grammar mini-series
PDF Practice Worksheet
Welcome to the third episode of our learn the English tenses mini series from English. Plus, we talked about the present simple and the present continuous, and we talked about a lot of things that you need to know about these two, but today we’re going to continue. And we were going to talk about the past simple and the past continues.
[00:00:24] So let’s start talking about the past simple, and let’s start studying this example. Wolfgang Amadeus. Mozart was an Austrian musician and composer. He lived from 1756 to 1791. He started composing at the age of five and wrote more than 600 pieces of music. He was only 35 years old when he died. Now look at the verbs that I used here.
[00:00:51] Of course, we’re talking about Mozart. Mozart is dead. And when we want to talk about people from the past, we would want to use the past. And usually the past simple look at the verbs we used, we said was Mozart was an Austrian musician. He lived from 1756 to 1791. He started the composing and wrote more than 600 pieces of music.
[00:01:17] He was only 35. When he died, lived, started, wrote was died our old past simple. And if you look at them again, you will see that they’re not all the same. Now we can see that lived and started are kind of the same. And diet of course are kind of the same that we have ed at the end of them. But what about wrote, wrote there’s no, ed.
[00:01:41] And we know the verb in present is right for live. Yeah. We have lived lived that’s ed start started. That’s ed die, died. That’s ed. But what about right wrote there’s no ed here and was obviously that is the past form of is. So here we know that in past, when we want to talk about the past, we have what we call regular verbs and we have what we call irregular verbs, the regular verbs.
[00:02:08] We add ed to them. No very often the past simple ends in ed. These are the regular verbs. For example, I work in a travel agency. Now, before that I worked, I worked ed in a department store. They invited us to their party, but we decided not to go. So here invited that ed decided not to go. That’s also in the past, the police stopped me on my way.
[00:02:35] Home last night stopped ed stop is the presence stopped is the past ed Laura passed her exam because she studied very hard past. Ed studied ed again. Now of course. You will have to notice that the spelling is different stopped. We have double B studied. We have IED, not Y E D, but I’m not going to focus on the spelling in this series.
[00:03:00] Let’s move back to our regular and irregular verbs. So for regular, we said that we add 80. What about irregular? Do we have a pattern now? For example, we just talked about Mozart and we said, right. And in the past, we said Mozart wrote more than 600 pieces of music. Well, bright wrote. Oh, maybe we change I too.
[00:03:20] Oh, but let’s take a look at another example. See, and saw, we saw Alice in town a few days ago. Oh, here he becomes a w is that a pattern or maybe go becomes went. I went to the cinema three times last week. Well, that’s a completely different word. What about shut? Shut stays the same. It was cold. So I shut the window.
[00:03:45] Nothing changed. So obviously the point is that there is no pattern. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can learn and apply to verbs. Irregular verbs, irregular verbs are irregular. You will have to learn them as they are. And of course you will have to rely on an irregular verb chart, which you can find everywhere.
[00:04:05] The point is that with irregular verbs, we have no rules. You will have to learn them by heart. For example, road is the past of right. No questions asked. Saw is the past of see, went is the past of gold shot is the best of shot. The same thing, like put, put, we don’t change it. Cut. Cut. So we have things that are similar.
[00:04:27] You might just join them into groups that are similar to each other, and that helps you learn them faster. But apart from that, they have no rules. Now let’s talk about how we can make questions and negatives in the past. Now, of course, we said, I enjoyed the saw. They went. That is the affirmative, but what if I want to ask a question and if I want to ask a question, because that is simple.
[00:04:51] So I have to use verb to do as an auxiliary verb, but obviously not do because do, is present or does, we will have to use, did. Did you enjoy? Did she see, did they go so here, as you can notice, when we use, did we use the past form with the auxiliary versa? We don’t use it with the main verb anymore. Did you enjoy not?
[00:05:17] Did you enjoy? We don’t put the past twice the first time with did. And the second time with the main verb we don’t do that. We just use the past with. One of the verbs and obviously we want to use it with the auxiliary verb, not with the main verb. So the main verb goes back to its original zero form.
[00:05:35] Did you enjoy, did she see? Not that she saw. Did she see, did they go. And the same goes, if I want to use that in the negative, I didn’t enjoy. She didn’t see, they didn’t go not, they didn’t went. Okay. So here we just use the past form once with the auxiliary verb. If there is no auxiliary verb, like in the affirmative, just go ahead and use the past with the main verb.
[00:06:04] Like when we said I enjoyed, she saw they went, but when you use. The auxiliary verb, which is dead. In this case, you put the main verb back in its original zero form. Did you enjoy the CISI? Did they go et cetera? Now let’s take a look at some examples. I enjoyed the party a lot. Did you enjoy it? How many people did they invite to the wedding?
[00:06:29] Did they invite not invited? Did they invite, and here you have to put it. If you want to ask a question, you can’t just go like how many people they invited to the wedding. You can’t go like that. Just, this is a question you just change your tone of voice. And it’s a question. No, you have to use it to make a question.
[00:06:47] And now let’s take a look at this example in negative. I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t have any money. So I didn’t buy none. I didn’t bought, but that is the past of buy or I didn’t had not at all. I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t have any money, a question. Did you go out? No, I didn’t. So these are all examples of using the past simple in questions and in negative.
[00:07:14] What about sometimes when we have do as the main verb, as well as do, as the auxiliary verb, can we do that? Yes. Just like we said, we can do that in the present. Simple. We can do it in the past. Simple as well. Did you do? And I didn’t do, of course we can do that because the first do, or the first one that we use as did is the auxiliary verb.
[00:07:35] The second one which is do is the main verb and do comes as a main verb. So why not? We can use them both. We can say, for example, what did you do at the weekend? Right. Not just, what did you at the weekend? That’s wrong? You can’t just say, Oh, I use did once. And that’s it. What did you at the weekend? No, you have to use the main verb.
[00:07:56] There is no main verb with in what did you at the weekend? You have to say, what did you do? At the weekend. I didn’t do anything. Not just, I didn’t anything. It doesn’t work this way. Didn’t here is just an auxiliary verb. It has no meaning. If you don’t add a main verb, your sentence will be missing an important thing, which is the main verb.
[00:08:18] Obviously. What about verb to be. Were to be in the past is, was, and we’re of course it’s in the present. M is are, but in the past we just have two forms and just like work to be in the present where we don’t have to use another exhilarated verb because verb to be itself is an auxiliary verb. So. It is the same in the past, but just to know, was, is the past of MN is, and war is the past of ours.
[00:08:42] So we say, I, he, she, it was, or wasn’t obviously we, you, or they were, or weren’t if one, ask a question you say was, I, was, he, was she, were you, were they, were we et cetera? For example, I was annoyed because they were late. If you want to ask a question. Sure. You can ask a question using verb to be on its own.
[00:09:06] Was the weather good? When you were on holiday? Was the weather you just put was before the weather and it’s a question they weren’t able to come because they were so busy. I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t eat anything. Did you go out last night or were you too tired? So that is in general, the past simple.
[00:09:26] Now of course you might ask yourself, when do we use the best simple, we will be talking a lot about the best simple down the line, especially when we compare it to the present. Perfect. Because there might be some confusion between the past simple and the present. Perfect. But in a nutshell, the past simple is used to talk about things that happened and finished in the past.
[00:09:45] We’re just talking about the past. That’s the past simple, the easiest of them all. I will not be talking more about it because we will be talking more about the past simple when we compare it to other tenses. And now let’s move on to talk about the past continuous. Now, let’s study this example yesterday, Karen and Joel played tennis.
[00:10:04] All right. I’m telling you about something that happened yesterday. They played tennis yesterday. They started at 10 o’clock and finished at 1130. So they played for an hour and a half. So. What if we want to talk about what was happening in the middle of that between 10 and 1130. What about 10 30? So we can say here that at 10 30, they were playing tennis, they were playing, what does that mean?
[00:10:32] They were in the middle of playing tennis and they had not finished. That is very similar to the present continuous, except the present continuous we’re talking about now, the past continuous, we’re talking about a point in the past, around a point, but this point is in the past, all right. This point that we’re talking, but if it is now, and the thing that is happening is around now, or now at the moment of speaking, that’s present continuous.
[00:10:59] But if this point that we specify, or at least it is known. Is in the past. And the thing that is happening is happening around that point in the past. So it was happening and it hadn’t finished yet. That will be the past continuous, how can we form the past? Continuous is very simple is verb to be, but in the past this time, not in the present because that’s past continuous and the same ING form for the main verb.
[00:11:25] So he, she, it was playing, doing, working, et cetera. We, you, they were. Laying doing, working, et cetera. So I was doing something. What does that mean? That means I was in the middle of doing it at a certain time. The action or situation started before this time, but had not finished. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
[00:11:47] Now here this time, last year I was living in Hong Kong. What does that mean? I started living before that time and I continued living after, so it was not finished by then this time last year I was living in Hong Kong. What were you doing at 10 o’clock last night? I’m asking you about 10 o’clock because probably you started doing something before 10 o’clock and you continued after 10 o’clock.
[00:12:11] What I’m interested in is at this very moment, what were you doing? Or I waved to Helen, but she wasn’t looking at that point. At that specific point. When I waved to her, she wasn’t looking, that was happening around this point when I waved to her. So you can point. You can pinpoint actually a point in the past, and then you talk about something that was happening around this point.
[00:12:36] Now let’s compare. I was doing, and I did ask continuous and past simple. Now I was doing, I was in the middle of the action I did. That is a complete action. Let’s take a look at this competitor. We were walking home when I met Dan. We were walking home. We were in the middle of walking home, but if I say we walked home after the party last night, that means all the way completely it finished.
[00:13:01] And if I say we walked home and then I saw Dan, that means after we walked home, we sold Dan. So it is not the same. We were walking home. We were in the middle of it. Kate was watching TV. When we arrived. Kate was watching TV. When we arrived, when we arrived, we looked at her, what was she doing? She was watching TV in the middle of her watching TV, but we can say Kate watch TV a lot.
[00:13:24] When she was ill last year, this is something that ended completed in the past. We’re talking about a complete action. You can say that something happened in the middle of something else, something happened that’s best simple in the middle of something else that is past continuous. That is also a common use of the past simple and continuous because we use them together a lot.
[00:13:47] Like when we say Matt called while we were having dinner, we were having dinner. This thing was happening. And then something happened in the middle of this action. And that is Matt called. Or it was raining when I got up. Well, I got up and at this specific point, what was happening around this point? It was raining.
[00:14:07] I saw you in the park yesterday, you were sitting on the grass and reading a book. You were doing something at this very moment. I pinpointed a moment in the past, and that is when I saw you in the park yesterday. What was happening around this point? You were sitting on the grass and reading a book. I hurt my back while I was working in the garden.
[00:14:28] Well, I was doing something, something was happening. And at this very moment, I hurt my back. Something was happening. What was happening. I was working in the garden, but we use the past simple to say that one thing happened after another. If you want to talk about this, you use the past simple. For example, I was walking along the road when I sold Dan.
[00:14:51] So I stopped and we talked for a while. You don’t continue using the past continuous, but right. I was walking. Yes. You were telling me what you were doing when you saw Dan, but then you want to continue. So I stopped and we talked for a while. We did this, we did that, et cetera. That’s best, simple, not past continuous anymore.
[00:15:09] Okay. Now compare this. When Karen arrived, we were having dinner. If we want to see now, the difference let’s use it once with the press continue. Wasn’t once with a past symbol, when Karen arrived. We were having dinner. When Karen arrived, we had dinner. Is there a difference? Of course there is. When Karen arrived, we were having dinner.
[00:15:30] That’s the best continuous. That means we had already started before she arrived and we were not done yet. But if I say, when Karen arrived, we had dinner that Ms. Karen arrived and then we had dinner. It’s different. Now in the first example, Karen might say you started without me because she came to the house.
[00:15:51] And she found everybody eating. They were having dinner, or we were actually having dinner. But in the second example, when Karen arrived, we had dinner. That means we had dinner after she arrived. So we were waiting for her. Maybe we were waiting for her, but the point is she can tell us, why did you start without me?
[00:16:09] Because we didn’t. Okay, so here, these are slight differences, but there’s, these are very important because they will help you express the meaning. You want to say better. Remember again, maybe I’ve said that a thousand times start with the meaning, start with what you want to say, and then look for the right tends to use, not the other way round.
[00:16:30] Now let’s talk about some verbs that we talked about before. Of course, like no, and Juan, these are not normally used in continuous forms and that applies to present continuous to pass continues, and we will see later even for present perfect continuous past perfect continuous future. Perfect. Continuous doesn’t matter.
[00:16:47] These verbs are not normally used in continuous form study because these verbs are stated verbs, like know and want. So we don’t usually use them in continuous. For example, we say we were good friends. We knew each other very well not. We were knowing each other. Okay. Because he or no is a state of verb.
[00:17:07] So we knew we just use the past simple or I was enjoying the party, but Chris wanted to go home. Not was wanting wanted. Now that we’ve talked about the fundamental uses of the past simple and the past continuous, let’s talk about some other nuances and some other advanced features for as continuous and pass symbol.
[00:17:29] Now, when we talk about two events or activities that went on over the same period of pastime, we can often use the past continuous or the past simple or both. Example, we can say Mia was reading to the children while Ben was washing up. Well, you can say me or read to the children while Ben washed up.
[00:17:50] Both are fine. I mean, yes, up till now. Everybody’s told you use the thing that was happening in the past continuous and then the thing that interrupted in the past simple. Yes, that’s right. But you know, to be honest, we can use both. We can say Mia was reading to the children while Ben was washing up because both things were happening at the same time.
[00:18:11] And if they were happening at same time, just like that, you can use the past continuous or the past simple. You can simply say Mia, read to the children while Ben washed up. You don’t have to use the past continuous at all. If you don’t want to, of course it is right to use it, but you can use the past simple in this case.
[00:18:29] I using the past continuous emphasizes that the event or activity like was reading here was in progress during the past period of time while Ben was washing up. Now, take a look at this here. That is the important thing. It’s not just what is right. And what is wrong? What is the meaning here? What is the emphasis here and what is the emphasis there?
[00:18:50] So if I say, when I was learning to drive, I was with my parents. If you say I was learning that emphasizes that the activity was in progress. I had lessons during this time. This is what you’re trying to say. But if you say, when I learned to drive, I was living with my parents that emphasizes the completion.
[00:19:11] That means I passed my test during this time. You see, I know this is a little bit more advanced, but it is important. What do you want to say now here by simply using the past continuous, you are just telling me that you had lessons during this time. You don’t have to say it. You just use the past continuous, but if you want to tell me, I passed my test during this time and you don’t want to say it.
[00:19:32] You just use the past simple. When I was learning to drive, I was living with my parents or when I learned to drive, I was living with my parents. Both are fine grammatically, but the meaning is slightly different. The emphasis of the meaning is different. Now, when we talk about two or more past completed events that followed one another, we use the past simple, not the past continuous for both.
[00:19:55] I remember that if you want to focus on completed events, following one another, you don’t use the past continuous use of as simple. She got up. When the alarm went off, we don’t use bass continuous. She was getting up when the alarm was going off. No. Okay. She got up when the alarm went off. Now another point we usually use the past simple, rather than the past continuous to talk about repeated past actions.
[00:20:21] We went to Spain three times last year. Not, we were going to Spain. Did you drive past her house every day? Not where you driving. However, we can use the past continuous, particularly in spoken English. When we want to emphasize the repeated action went on for a limited or a temporary period of pastime.
[00:20:43] So you see, there are always other ways, there are always other ways to use the past simple or the past continuous. Yes. We usually use the best simple, and that’s what I’m telling you. And like 99% of the time, you’re going to use the past simple, but we can use the past continuous, particularly in spoken English.
[00:21:01] When we want to emphasize that repeated actions went on for a limited and temporary period of pastime. For example, when Kate was in hospital, we were visiting her twice a day. Or we visited her. That’s good. That’s okay. You can say we visited her twice a day. That’s okay. But if you just want to emphasize that disrupted action was limited and happened only for a temporary period of pastime, you can use the past continuous if you want.
[00:21:28] We were visiting her twice a day. Another example. To lose weight before the race. I wasn’t eating any biscuits for weeks. I wasn’t eating. Of course you can say I didn’t eat. That’s fine, but I wasn’t eating is also good. And here it emphasized that this repeated action went on for a limited time or for a temporary period of pastime.
[00:21:51] And we can use the past continuous as well to talk about something that happens surprisingly often. Now, again, I’m talking about situations where you usually use past simple, but we can use the past continuous, if you want to talk about something that happens surprisingly often, like last week I was having to bring work home every night to get it all done.
[00:22:12] I was having to bring work home. That happens surprisingly often. Okay, of course you can say last week I had to bring work home every night. But when you say I was having to you add this layer of meaning that this happens surprisingly often, if you just say last week I had to bring work home. That is neutral.
[00:22:36] That is okay. That’s good. Grammatically perfect. But. That is neutral. If you want to add this layer of meaning, if you want to say that this thing happens surprisingly, often you go and say last week I was having to bring work home every night to get it all done. Another example, when the builders were here, I was making them cups of tea all the time.
[00:23:00] Of course you can say, I made them cups of tea all the time, and that is neutral and that is perfect. And that’s good. But if you want to emphasize that this happens surprisingly, often you go and say I was making them cups of tea all the time. Now let’s talk about another use of past simple and past continuous.
[00:23:17] Now we often use the past simple in a narrative. A report or a story to talk about a single complete past event and the past continuous to describe the situation that existed at the time the event might have interrupted the situation or happened while the situation was in progress. For example, Erica dropped her back while she was getting into the car, or she was shaking with anger as she left the hotel.
[00:23:44] And that might be something that you are more familiar with, but of course it doesn’t mean that if you’re familiar with it, it’s wrong or it’s not the way to go. No, it is. Of course. Remember this because this is a very common way to use the past simple in a narrative when we want to talk about a single complete past event and the past continuous to describe the situation that existed at the time.
[00:24:06] And now for our final point, for this episode, you can use either the past continuous or past, simple or past. Perfect. But we will talk about that later with some verbs to talk about things we intended to do, but did it. I’ll give you an example. We were meaning to call in and see you, but Mark wasn’t feeling well now, of course you can still say we meant to call and see.
[00:24:31] Now we have also consider with ING, expect to hope, to intend, to plan to, or plan on doing something. Think about, or think of doing something or want to, we can use those verbs as well. Now these verbs with the exception of mean and expect and wonder about can also be used with the present and past continuous to report.
[00:24:53] What we might do in the future. The past continuous is less definite than the present. Continuous. I’ll give you an example so that you can understand this better. I was thinking of going to China next year, but it depends how much money I’ve got. Oh, you can still go. Like I’m thinking of going to China.
[00:25:11] That’s perfectly fine. But I was thinking that the past continuous using the past continuous here is less definite. Maybe you don’t want to tell me about your definite plans because you don’t have definite plans yet. So use the past continuous tube some way this meaning, remember the meaning comes before the, I was thinking of going to China next year, but it depends on how much money I’ve got.
[00:25:35] That’s less definite than I’m thinking of going. Another example, we were wondering about inviting Eva over tomorrow. We were wondering, we can say we are, are wondering, or we are wondering, but we were wondering is less definite than we are wondering. Now with that being said, I hope that I have covered.
[00:25:54] Almost everything I wanted to tell you about the past and the past continuous. But remember, we will talk more about the past, especially the past simple, when we put the past simple in the past perfect side-by-side or the past simple and the present. Perfect. Side-by-side because we will do that in our upcoming episodes.
[00:26:09] So now with that being said, that’ll be everything for this episode. We talked about the past simple, the past continuous, the basic, and the more advanced uses for these two tenses. And I will have to remind you that if you want to practice the things you’ve learned, go ahead and take the link. You can find in the description of this episode and go to our website, English plus podcast.com.
[00:26:27] We have created a custom post for this episode. You will find of course, the transcript of this episode, but you will find a PDF downloadable worksheet you can use to practice the things you’ve learned today in this episode. And when we are done with the whole series, I will put all the exercises together in one on exercise booklet that I will share with you later. [00:26:48] Well, that being said, this is your host, Danny. I would like to thank you very much for listening to another episode from our mini series about learn the English tenses from English. Plus, I will see you next.