Past simple, past continuous, past perfect – grammar chart
We use the past simple to talk about completed actions in the past.
- We ate out yesterday. (the action is finished)
In a story, we use the past simple to talk about past events in chronological order; i.e. the main events of a story.
- When she opened the door, she pretended that we weren’t there and she went to her room.
- He called me and told me to go, but when I arrived he wasn’t there.
We also use the past simple to talk about past habits or past states.
- We often went to the bar for a drink before dinner.
- He really liked sport, and was very fit.
We use the past continuous the set the scene in a story.
- Last night I was walking home and listening to my ipod when …
- The sun was shining and lots of tourists were lying on the beach. Suddenly …
We use the past continuous for actions in progress in the past or longer actions interrupted by shorter actions in past simple.
- After dinner I went into the living room and saw that she was crying.
- When she opened the door, we were talking about her.
We use the past perfect simple to talk about an earlier past: events which happened before the main event.
Earlier single events
We use the past perfect simple to talk about earlier events and experiences, or single actions completed earlier in the past.
- When she opened the door, he had already left.
- I realised that I had been there before.
- When I met her, I had never been in a serious relationship.
- He noticed I had cleaned the car. It was smooth and shiny.
We use the past perfect simple to say how much or how many we had done of something earlier in the past.
- We had driven 500 miles and we needed some rest.
- How many hours had he slept when you woke him up?
Duration from earlier in the past (stative verbs)
We use the past perfect simple with stative verbs to talk about states or situations that had started earlier in the past. We often use how long, for or since, always, etc.
- The day Anne died, they had been married for 48 years.
- The day I left, I had been in England for exactly 4 years.
- She told me she had always hated her sister.
In the picture below, you can see an example of a narrative with the past tenses explained.