Past tenses Episode
„What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic had
survived until the present day?”
– The Man from Earth
John Oldman, the main character was packing his belongings when his colleagues showed up to give him an unexpected farewell party. They are all scholars and teachers at the university where John had been working for ten years before he resigned.
Harry, Edith, Dan and Sandy were talking in John’s living room about a Van Gogh painting when Art the archaeologist and his student Linda arrived. None of them had seen that painting before.
They all wanted to know the reason for John’s departure, so he posed the question: “What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic had survived until the present day?”
As the story progresses John slowly reveals that he is the “caveman” under discussion: he had a chance to sail with Columbus in the 15th century and he was once Jacques Borne, a friend of Van Gogh’s and he was always moving on, because otherwise people would have noticed his lack of aging.
His friends thought that John went crazy and they called another friend, dr. Gruber, an elderly psychologist. Meanwhile Sandy confessed to John that she had been in love with him for years, but John told her they could never be together because of his immortality.
After this, John resumed the story by stating that he was once a Sumerian for 2000 years, then he turned into a Babylonian under Hammurabi and finally he became a disciple of Buddha.
Emotions in the room ran high when John revealed how he survived the crucifixion when he was Jesus by “blocking the pain”, a technique he learned in India. Later, he explained the origin of the Resurrection, Moses, and other events and people in the Bible.
So was his story true and he’s indeed 14000 years old or did he just make it up?
It’s similar to the present simple because it has different rules for the verb ‘be’, which becomes ‘was’ or ‘were’:
|past simple||subject + past simple (verb –ed OR irregular*)
He survived the crucifixion.
He became a disciple of Buddha.
|subject + did + not + verb
He didn’t survive the crucifixion.
He didn’t become a disciple of Buddha.
|(question word +)
Did + subject + verb?
Did he survive the crucifixion?
When did he become a disciple of Buddha?
|past simple with ‘be’||subject + was / were
He was Jacques Borne.
|subject + was / were + not
He wasn’t Jacques Borne.
|(Question word +) was / were + subject?
Was he Jacques Borne?
I’m afraid you have to learn them! You will find a list at the end of any grammar book or on the internet.
This is the basic past tense. We use it whenever we want to talk about the past and we don’t have any special situation that means we should use the past/present perfect or past continuous.
Finished events in the past with no connection to the present:
- He became a disciple of Buddha.
- He was a friend of Van Gogh.
With a finished time word (last year/month/week, yesterday, at 10 o’clock, in 1984):
- He had a chance to sail with Columbus in the 15th
- He was once a Sumerian for 2000 years.
For stories / lists of events:
- His friends thought that John went crazy and they called another friend…
- He was once a Sumerian for 2000 years, then he turned into a Babylonian under Hammurabi and finally he became a disciple of Buddha.
Details of news (used with the present perfect):
- Gruber has suffered a heart attack. He overheard John telling a secret to Sandy.
As part of the second conditional**:
- He wouldn’t move from his home if he were
** I will cover the conditionals in a later episode.
How can we make the past continuous? If you can make the past simple with ‘be’ (subject + was / were), then just add verb-ing.
Subject + was/were + verb –ing.
John was packing his belongings.
Subject + was/were + not + verb –ing.
Art and John weren’t talking.
(Question word – if there is one +) was/were + subject + verb – ing…?
Was John packing his belongings?
Why was John packing his belongings?
Overlapping actions: a continuous action in the past which is interrupted by another action or a time:
- John was packing his belongings when his colleagues showed up.
- They were talking in John’s living room about a Van Gogh painting when Art and Linda arrived.
- At 8 o’clock, they were still talking.
Some past habits and annoying/repeated action in the past, usually with ‘always’ (In the same way as the present continuous):
- He was always moving on because otherwise people would have noticed his lack of aging.
For two actions which happened at the same time in the past:
- John was packing and his friends were talking.
Background information, to give atmosphere to a story:
- It was peaceful. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, they were talking and drinking.
Note (again): You can't use this tense or any continuous tense with stative verbs.
Past Perfect simple
It isn’t the most common tense in English, but it is useful, and it sounds very good if you can use it correctly. Also, it’s really easy to make – HAD and the past participle.
Subject + had + past participle.
John had been a Sumerian before he became a Babylonian.
Subject + had + not + past participle.
They hadn’t seen the Van Gogh painting before John showed them.
(Question word – if there is one +) had + subject + past participle…?
Had they seen the Van Gogh painting before?
What had John been before he became a Babylonian?
A completed action before something else in the past:
- When Art arrived, the others had already been there.
To explain or give a reason for something in the past:
- John had invented Christianity, so he didn’t believe in god.
Again: Stative verbs only; something that started in the past and continued up to another action in the past:
- When he became a disciple of Buddha, he had been in Nepal for 120 years.
- She had been in love with him for years.
- None of them had seen that Van Gogh painting before John showed them.
As part of the third conditional***:
- If John had lived for 14000 years, he would have gone insane.
- What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic had survived until the present day?
*** I will cover the conditionals in a later episode.
Past Perfect continuous
Subject + had + been + verb – ing.
John had been working at the university for ten years before he resigned.
Subject + had + not + been + verb – ing.
John hadn’t been working at the university for ten years before he resigned.
(Question word – if there is one +) had + subject + been + verb – ing…?
Had John been working at the university for ten years before he resigned?
Where had John been working for ten years before he resigned?
Something that started in the past and continued up to another action or event (tells us ‘how long’):
- John had been working at the university for ten years before he resigned.
This tells us how long something had continued before another event in the past. We usually use ‘for’ or ‘since’ in the same way as we do with the present perfect continuous.
Cause of something in the past:
- John was nervous; he had been hiding a great secret.
THINGS TO NOTICE
Regular verbs spelling rules:
Regular past simple forms are formed by adding -ed to the infinitive of the verb:
confess → confessed
resign → resigned
explain → explained
If a verb ends in -e, you add –d:
pose → posed
resume → resumed
survive → survived
If a verb ends in a vowel and a consonant, the consonant is usually doubled before –ed:
stop → stopped
plan → planned
If a verb ends in consonant and -y, you take off the y and add –ied:
study → studied
try → tried
carry → carried
But if the word ends in a vowel and -y, you add –ed:
play → played
enjoy → enjoyed
destroy → destroyed
There are three kinds of pronunciation: /d/, /t/ and /ɪd/. Look at the table below.
Past simple vs present perfect:
Previously we covered the present perfect tenses, now let’s compare that with the past simple:
The present perfect (something has happened) is a present tense. lt always tells us about the situation now:
- ‘Trevor hasn’t slept in a year’ = he is insomniac.
The past simple (something happened) tells us only about the past.
- If somebody says ‘Trevor didn’t sleep last year/month/week/night etc…’, this doesn’t tell us whether he is insomniac now or not. lt tells us only that he was insomniac at some time in the past.
Do not use the present perfect if the situation now is different:
- Trevor has been working in a factory for years. (He still works there.)
- Trevor worked in a factory for years. (He doesn’t work there anymore.)
You can use the present perfect for new or recent happenings:
- The company has awarded Miller after the accident.
Use the past simple (not the present perfect) for things that are not recent or new:
- John had a chance to sail with Columbus in the 15th century.
We use the present perfect to give new information. But if we continue to talk about it, we normally use the past simple:
- My arm has been cut off!
- What happened?
- Trevor turned on the machine!
Do not use the present perfect (I have done) when you talk about a finished time (for example, yesterday / ten minutes ago / in 2005 / when I was a child). Use a past tense.
Had or Would?
The short form for ‘had’ is ‘d.
The contraction ‘d can mean would or had. To tell the difference we need to look at what follows ‘d:
Would is followed by the bare infinitive (infinitive without to). Would be, would go, etc.:
I’d like some tea. (‘d = would)
He’d go if he had some money. (‘d = would)
It’d be a good idea. (‘d = would)
Would can also be followed by the perfect infinitive (have + past participle).
would have been, would have gone, etc.:
I’d have gone if I had had time. (‘d = would)
He’d have been 70 today. (‘d = would)
Had is followed by a past participle had gone, had had, had been, had spoken, etc…:
He’d gone home. (‘d = had)
He’d been married a year. (‘d = had)
She’d just spoken to her. (‘d = had)
I wish I’d waited longer. (‘d = had)
I’d better do something:
(‘d = had)
(used for giving advice or warnings)
You’d better be careful – it might be dangerous. (‘d = had)
We’d better ask someone else because I’m not sure. (‘d = had)
(‘d = would)
I’d rather live in Paris than in Rome. (‘d = would)
I’m tired so I’d rather not go out. (‘d = would)
VOCABULARY, PHRASES, COLLOCATIONS, IDIOMS, PHRASAL VERBS
(Phrasal verb) To arrive somewhere in order to join a group of people, especially late or unexpectedly.
To pose a question:
To ask a question; to imply the need for asking a question.
If something is under discussion, it is still being talked about and a final decision has not yet been reached.
Lack of something:
The fact that something is not available or that there is not enough of it.
(collocation) to become mentally ill.
(preposition collocation) To admit that you have done something wrong or something that you feel guilty or bad about.
To change into something or someone; become transformed into something or someone.
Be intense; to be very strong. Usage notes: used mostly of feelings.
Make something up:
(Phrasal verb) to think up something; to make and tell a lie.
Make the past simple positive, negative or question:
John and his friends _____________ (be) in a house.
John ______________ (tell) them that he is 14 000 years old.
Where _____________ (John/ live) when he was young?
He _______________ (travel) through Europe and Asia.
Edith ________________ (not/ believe) him.
They all _______________ (want) to know the truth.
_____________ (he/survive) the crucifixion?
_____________ (he/be) Van Gogh’s friend?
He_______________(be) a Sumerian for 2000 years.
John________________ (not/ make up) the story.
Make the past continuous positive, negative or question:
He/ not/ lie.
John/ pack/ his belongings?
They/ talk/ in John’s living room.
Dr. Gruber/ not/ feel well.
Choose the past simple or past continuous:
We ________________________ (sit) in a café when Van Gogh_____________ (give) me that painting.
When Art ________________________ (walk) into the room, everyone________________________ (talk).
It ________________________ (be) a beautiful day in the summer of 1880. The sun ________________________ (shine), the birds ________________________ (sing). I ________________________ (walk) along the street when I ________________________ (meet) with Van Gogh.
When John ________________________ (leave) France, it ________________________ (snow).
He _____________ (live) in Russia when the Revolution____________ (start).
Choose the present perfect or past simple:
Dan_________________ (always / love) whisky – he drinks it regularly.
John________________ (be) in this town for 10 years. He loves it here.
Yesterday he _________________ (have) dinner with other friends.
John___________________ (never / go) to Japan.
I_________________ (see) this film last year.
Make the past perfect:
Dr Gruber didn’t arrive until after Dan ______________(leave).
John ____________________ (live) in France before he went to India.
The grass was yellow in front of John’s house because it ___________________ (not / rain) all summer.
Linda told them that she ____________________ (study) a lot before her exams.
She said that she _________________(not/ visit) the UK before.
Choose the past perfect or past simple:
John_______________ (already/pack) everything when his guests_____________ (arrive).
Last year Linda ________________________________ (pass) all her exams.
When they ________________________________ (arrive) to John they discovered they ____________________ (forget) to buy a present.
They ___________ (sit) down on the couch and_________________ (start) to talk.
John______________ (know) Van Gogh for 3 years when he___________ (give) him the painting.
Short vocabulary test:
Which of the following phrasal verb means: to think up something; to make and tell a lie?
To ____________ a question
'Lack of something' means:
'Show up' means:
Which of the following DOESN'T mean 'to go insane'?