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English Verb Tense Practice: Past Tenses

Understand the Differences in Meaning

Past Tense
She waited.
she waited at some time in the past

Past Progressive (continuous)
She was waiting for two hours.
she waited during two hours in the past (an event/story told about the past and the waiting could continue in the story)

Past Perfect
She had waited for two hours.
she waited for two hours in the past (the waiting is finished, that part of the event/story is over)

Past Perfect Passive
Her car had been parked for a long time.
passive form--the subject acted on serves as the first noun; active past perfect: she had parked her car.
Past Perfect Progressive
She had been waiting for two hours before her friend arrived.
she waited for two hours and then something else happened (this tense is usually followed by a new event)

I slept all night.
you slept all night in the past

Past Progressive
I was sleeping all night.
you slept during the night (emphasizes time)

Past Perfect
I had slept terribly for two days.
at some point in the past, you slept badly for 2 days

Past Perfect Passive
My bed had not been made for days.
passive form--the bed is being (or not being) acted upon, active form: I had not made my bed.

Past Perfect Progressive
I had been sleeping terribly for three days, but then I finally slept for 9 hours and felt better.
you slept badly, but then something else happened

Compare with Present Perfect Tenses.

Use the Past Perfect Tenses

Use for most situations in the past. Often use it after using past perfect or past perfect progressive, when adding details.
Past Progressive
Use to show length of time--many hours, days, weeks, months, etc.
Past Perfect
Use this tense when telling a story that happened in the past. Use it to show periods of time in the past--two hours, three days, several weeks.
Past Perfect Passive
Though grammar check often tells you to avoid the passive voice, it can be useful when speaking/writing about "passive" things like rooms, cars--any object that people act upon. It also adds color/change when you use it here and there.
Past Perfect Progressive
As with past perfect, use when telling a story that happened in the past. For this tense, though, use it to show a change that happened. "He had been waiting, but ..." or "I had been working hard and then ..."

Read the Story:

   My husband and I took a weekend trip out of town. We decided to drive south on the interstate and explore. We had been driving for 4 hours when we noticed it was getting dark and there were no cities nearby. We found a small hotel. There was an old air conditioner that was very loud. The room had not been cleaned well either. We regretted that we had not made plans before we left. The next day, you could see we had not slept.


Tip: The past tense is difficult because we tend to mix  past verb tenses together. Try to write your own paragraph that is almost like the one above. Choose small differences in meaning: going to a nice resort or taking the train instead of driving. Model the sentences, especially the verb tenses.

Read about the verb tense for "decided to drive" and "could. "


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