Sublime Specimens of the Past Tense

me_wants_your_heart_by_xsusanstohelitx-d688xwvWelcome, dear readers, to the next installment of my verb tenses posts. Last time, we looked at the present tense. Today, we’re going to look at the past tense and its different forms.

But first, I want to tell you a bit more about my ultra-secret project, which will launch on October 1st. I am putting together a place for writers and the people who love them. What does that mean? Well, it means you’ll be able to find writing workshops, writing resources, a vibrant writing community, writing prompts, and much more—all in the same place! So come on back next Wednesday for the great unveiling!

All right, let’s have a look at the Past Tense.

Simple Past I cackled.
Past Progressive I am cackling.
Past Perfect I have cackled.
Past Perfect Progressive I have been cackling.

Simple Past

The simple past tense is used to express an action that started and finished in the past. We always use simple past when we indicate when something happened. So, if you are talking about frequency (often, occasionally, all the time, etc.), or points in time that are either definite (yesterday, when I was 16, last week, etc.) or indefinite (a long time ago, the other day, once upon a time, etc.), you would use the simple past to express it.

  • The witch cackled all the time.
  • Hecate bewitched me when I was a child.

Past Progressive

The past progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that happened in the past over a period of time. It is formed by combining the past tense of the helping verb “be” (was, were) with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • That werewolf was howling for hours last night!

Generally, we use past progressive to talk about ongoing actions that were interrupted by another (usually shorter) action:

  • The vampire was stalking us when Buffy found him.

We can also use past progressive to describe a scene or atmosphere:

  • When I walked into the room, the goblins were shrieking and the imps were lighting things on fire.

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the past progressive form.

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense is used to express an action that finished (or was perfected) in the past, before another action that also happened—it tell us which action happened first. Past perfect is formed by combining “had” with the past participle of the action verb.

  • The gremlins had escaped by the time I got there.
  • Tina had summoned a demon, so I asked for her help summoning mine.

Past Perfect Progressive

The past perfect progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that started in the past and continued until another time that was also in the past. It is formed by combining “had been” with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • The monster wasn’t hungry because it had been snacking all day.
  • Clarabelle had been haunting her house incessantly for six days when the Ghostly Intervention Team arrived.

While past perfect focuses on the interrupted action, past perfect progressive focuses on the period of time before an action in the past.

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the past perfect progressive form.

Okay, we’re done! You can exhale. So, now we’ve looked at the past tense and the present tense and all their forms. Next time, we’ll delve into the third and final tense—the future.


Image credit: xSusanStoHelitx @ deviantART

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