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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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3.3 Expressing the past

In everyday speech, past events can be easily discussed, but combining different verbs to express the past in writing can be challenging. It is therefore helpful to look at some of the key principles.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Look at Extracts 2 and 3 (below) again and highlight examples of the following tenses:

simple past

past in the past (time before then)

past progressive (something which is currently happening in the past).

To highlight your chosen text, first click on one of the coloured highlighter symbols to choose the appropriate tense. Then click on the appropriate part of the text. Click on the eraser symbol and click on the text again if you need to remove the highlight and try again.

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Answer

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Comment

In Extract 2, there are examples of the simple past (used, placed, arranged, pointed) and there is an example of the past in the past: had used indicates something which happened before something in the past.

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Answer

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Comment

In Extract 3, there are examples of the simple past and the past progressive. The past progressive is used for something which is currently happening in the past (that job they were interviewing for, Rita was responding to his questions, he was looking through a pile of papers). The focus here is on a period of time and not on a point of time.

Expressing the past is done in the following different ways.

Simple past

For example, in Extract 2:

I used a lamp.

This event started and finished in the past.

A line illustrating the use of the simple past.
Figure 8

Past in the past

However, in Extract 4, for example:

Last year however a position arose at a youth centre in Nottingham where I had previously volunteered.

This action started and finished in the past, but it is the past in the past because the volunteering occurred before the position arose. The focus here is on the position.

A line illustrating the past in the past.
Figure 9

Progressive past

This way of expressing the past is identified, for example, in Extract 3:

Rita was responding to his questions

You need to be able to distinguish between events that occurred at a particular point in the past and those which continued in the past.

A line illustrating the progressive past, which has a darker, undulating section in the middle.
Figure 10