In this lesson we’re looking at expressing yourself in the past in English.

You can use lots of different tenses to tell a story in the past. In this lesson, we’re going to look at past simple, past continuous and past perfect

Have fun with the lesson, and don’t forget to try the quizzes.

– James.

Lesson Contents

Three past tenses

Can you see the differences between these sentences?

When Chris arrived home, Dan cooked dinner.

When Chris arrived home, Dan was cooking dinner.

When Chris arrived home, Dan had cooked dinner.

The past simple

Past simple + past simple:

When Chris arrived home, Dan cooked dinner.
or
Dan cooked dinner when Chris arrived home.

This sentence uses past simple & past simple. This means that one action happened after another action. Both actions are in the past, and neither happened at the same time. So chronologically:

  1. Chris arrived home.
  2. Dan cooked dinner.

The past continuous

Past simple + past continuous:

When Chris arrived home, Dan was cooking dinner.
or
Dan was cooking dinner when Chris arrived home.

This sentence uses past simple & past continuous. This means that the continuous action started, and the simple action happened before the continuous action ended. So chronologically:

  1. Dan started to cook dinner.
  2. Chris arrived.
  3. Dan finished cooking dinner.

The past perfect

Past simple + past perfect:

When Chris arrived home, Dan had cooked dinner.
or
Dan had cooked dinner when Chris arrived home.

This sentence uses past simple & past perfect. The perfect sentence happened before the simple sentence happened. So chronologically:

  1. Dan cooked dinner.
  2. Chris arrived.

Can you use the past simple, the past continuous and the past perfect in context? Match the situations with the sentences.

Match the halves of the conversations, the second halves will use the past perfect.

Choose the correct auxiliary to complete the past sentences. The sentences will either use the past simple, past continuous, or the past perfect.

All Quizzes