Exercise 3

Fill in the gaps with the most appropriate narrative tenses of the verbs in brackets: past simple, past continuous or past perfect simple.

This story is based on true events that 1 (happen) many, many years ago in Scotland. One day, Mr Clark 2 (walk) home with a smile on his face. He 3 (carry) something very valuable in his hand: tickets for a long, long journey.

After many years working and saving, Mr Clark 4 (save) all the money he needed to take all his family to the United States. Earlier that afternoon he 5 (buy) all the tickets that now he 6 (hold) in his hand. It was the opportunity of their lives. “The United States of America,” he repeated aloud just to see how nice it 7 (sound) in his ears.

A few days before their departure, Mr Clark’s son 8 (play) in the street when a dog 9 (bite) him. The doctor 10 (go) to their home and 11 (treat) the child’s wound. Then he 12 (hang) a yellow sheet on their front door. That yellow sheet meant that they 13 (just/be) quarantined. They 14 (have) to stay at home for two weeks because of the possibility of rabies.

Five days later, Mr Clark was at the docks. He 15 (leave) the house and now he 16 (watch) their ship leave to the United States without him or his family. When the ship 17 (disappear) in the horizon, he 18 (stand up) and 19 (go) back home, crying.

A few days later, the tragic news spread throughout Scotland - the mighty Titanic 20 (sink), taking hundreds of lives with it.


 

 

Past simple, past continuous, past perfect – grammar chart

 
Narrative tenses – past simple, past continuous, past perfect

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Past simple

 
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.

 

Past continuous

 
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. 

 

Past perfect

 
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.
 
narrative tenses - example, sample

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