Past tense verbs

Past Tense verbs are used for the following:

  1. To talk about the past: He worked in a bank.
  2. To refer to the present or future in conditions and hypotheses: He could get a job at a bank if he tried.
  3. To refer to conditions, hypotheses and wishes. If we want to talk about the past, we always use the Past Perfect tense (see below): I would have helped him get the job if he had asked.

We touched on Past Tense verbs in our Verb Tenses section, but here we will go into more detail.

Simple past

Describes a completed action.

  • We watched the sun go down yesterday.

Past continuous (also known as Past Progressive)

Describes actions or events which began in the past but are still going on at the time of speaking/writing.

  • They were driving for three whole days.
  • I was watching the sun go down when she called.

Past perfect

When we talk about something that happened in the past, sometimes we want to refer further back to something that happened before that time.

  • Jenny called Suzanne’s mobile last night, but Suzanne had switched it off.
  • When I opened the washing machine, I realised I had forgotten to add the detergent.

Past perfect continuous (or Past Perfect Progressive)

We use this to look back at a situation in progress.

  • They were taking the dog to the vet.
  • She had been trying to call me all day.

Examples of past tense verbs

 To put the above very simply, take the following phrases and compare them. They will give you a quick overview of how the four past tenses work:

Simple Past                                        I worked

Past Continuous                               I was working

Past Perfect                                       I had worked

Past Perfect Continuous               I had been working