Here’s how you can do it!
We normally only use two these tenses in a sentence, to show an important event in your story and some other background information.
- Past simple – The most important information in your story
- Past continuous – Something happening at the same time as the main event
- Past perfect – Something that happened before the main event (completed action)
- Past perfect continuous – Something that happened before the main event (ongoing action)
Someone took their photo while they were falling through the air.
“Someone took their photo” (Past simple = Most important event)
“they were falling” (Past continuous = action happening at the same time
The instructor was relaxed because he had skydived 150 times before.
“The instructor was relaxed” (Past simple = Most important event)
“he had skydived 150 times before” (Past perfect = completed action before the most important event)
He had been looking forward to his skydive for a long time before he jumped.
“he jumped” (Past simple = Most important event)
“He had been looking forward to his skydive” (Past perfect continuous = ongoing action before the most important event)
Here’s some more info on how to make each tense, with some links to useful videos to make it easier:
Past simple and past continuous
This video will show you when to use each one, and show you some simple rules to remember so that you can talk clearly about things that happened in your past.
Here’s how to make the past simple and past continuous:
Past simple = Subject + past verb
For example: I studied English grammar.
Past continuous = Subject + be + (verb)ing
For example: “I was studying English grammar.”
Use past simple when you are talking about a finished action which started and finished in a finished time.
For example: “Yesterday, I studied English grammar.”
Use past continuous if the action started and finished outside of a finished time.
“I started studying English grammar at 10am and finished at 4pm.”
This person could say “At 2pm, I was studying English grammar.”
The action (study English grammar) started and finished outside of the finished time (2pm).
If you have two verbs in a sentence, you can use past continuous + past simple to show that the actions happened at the same time.
“I drank a coffee while I was studying English grammar.”
This means that the person was studying English grammar, and they drank a coffee at the same time.
The past perfect is very useful if you are talking about two actions in the past, and you want to show which one happened first.
How to make the past perfect:
Past perfect form: Subject + had + past participle (+ object)
Why we use the past perfect:
The past perfect is used when you have two past verbs in a sentence and you want to show which one happened first.
The past perfect happened before the past simple.
past perfect —-> past simple —–> now/present ——> future
“I felt awake in English class because I had drunk a coffee.”
“I felt awake” = Past simple
“I had drunk a coffee.” = Past perfect
So in this case, we know “drunk a coffee” happened first, because it is in the past perfect.
“I felt awake in English class because I drank a coffee.”
“I felt awake in English class” = Past simple
“I drank a coffee” = Past simple
In this case, it is not clear which action happened first. Did you drink the coffee before class or during class? The sentence is not clear. That’s why it is good to use the past perfect because it makes it easier to understand.
We use past perfect more in British English than in American English, so you will probably hear it more often if you are studying British English.
This video shows you how to make past perfect sentences and has some comprehension questions at the end.
Learn how to use the past perfect in English here
More “past perfect” practice here
Past perfect and past perfect continuous
Master the differences between these two tenses to take your English story-telling skills to the highest level!
The past perfect and past perfect continuous are often used when we are telling stories, or describing what happened before something else.
These two tenses have the same idea (they happened before something in the past), but we normally use them for different kinds of verbs.
How to make the past perfect:
Subject + had + past participle
How to make the past perfect continuous:
Subject + had + been + verbing
Use past perfect or past perfect continuous to show that an action or result happened before another action in the past.
Past perfect ——> Past simple —–> Present ——> Future
Past perfect continuous —–> Past simple —–> Present —–> Future
I was happy (past simple) because I had bought a new English grammar book (past perfect).
In this example, the person bought a new English grammar book and then they were happy.
I was tired (past simple) because I had been studying English grammar for 12 hours (past perfect continuous).
In this example, the person studied English grammar for 12 hours, and then felt tired.
Use Past perfect if you want to talk about “a finished action” or “how many/much”
I spoke English well because I had watched 10 of Teacher Mark’s videos. (This tells us “how many”, so we should use past perfect.
I took a rest because I had been studying English grammar for 2 hours. (This tells us “how long” so we should use past perfect continuous.)
The exception to this rule is if you are using a “state verb”.
State verbs should not be used in continuous tenses.
Common state verbs include: love, like, know and understand. You can find more information on state verbs in English here.
Here’s a more detailed list of state verbs in English.
Write a sentence about the picture in the comments section below. You can write anything, but try to use 2 different tenses. Give it a try!
Keep using English, keep improving! You can do it.