The simple past tense is used to describe a situation or an event that occurred in the past. Although the exact time of the event may not be stated, the simple past means that the situation or the event started and ended in the past and is not related to the present at all.
The time adverb when means 'at that moment' or 'right after'. See the examples below:
- When I came home, I started to make dinner. (Right after I came home, I started to make dinner. I came home first, then I started to make dinner.)
- The little girl began to cry when she saw the big dog. (First she saw the big dog. At that moment, she began to cry.
- Affirmative statements: When the verb is regular, add -d if the word ends with an 'e' or -ed if the word ends with any other vowel or consonant. For example:
The concert ended at 9:30 p.m.
- Negative statements (Do not add -ed to the verb.):
The concert did not end at 9:30 p.m.
What time did the concert end?
Be careful!! Do not add the 'be' auxiliary to the verb if it is in the active voice (i.e. the subject is doing the verb). Compare:
right The teacher praised the students for their good work.
right The students were praised (by their teacher) for their good work.
wrong The teacher was praised the students for their good work.
The past progressive tense describes an event that was in progress at a specific time in the past. The action was not finished at that time. This tense is usually used when describing an event that was happening at a specific time, for a short period of time, or when another event occurred.
- At 7 p.m last night, I was having dinner. (I'm describing what was in progress exactly at 7 p.m. I started eating at 6:50, and at 7 I was still eating. I finished eating at 7:10.)
- Jennifer was taking classes at Canada College. (She took classes for a few weeks but did not finish.)
- Henry was watching TV when the phone rang. (Henry started watching TV first. Then the phone rang. He was not finished with watching TV.)
wrong At 7 p.m. last night, I was having dinner. Then I took a shower. (The second sentence implies that the first action ended. When he was taking a shower, he was no longer eating.)
right At 7 p.m last night, I had dinner. Then I took a shower. (First I ate dinner, then I took a shower.)
wrong Jessica was washing the dishes. Then she dried them and put them away.
right Jessica washed the dishes. Then she dried them and put them away.
These events happened one after another. First she washed the dishes. (She finished washing the dishes) Next, she dried them. Then she put them away.
In such cases, the verbs should be in the simple past.
Note: As in the case with the present tense, stative verbs cannot be in the past progressive tense. For example:
wrong I was knowing my neighbor very well.
right I knew my neighbor very well.
wrong The teacher was not understanding me.
right The teacher did not understand me.
- Affirmative Statements: be + verb-ing
- Negative Statements: be + not + verb-ing
Where were Debbie and John studying last night?
Progressive Verbs to Complain
You can use the present or past progressive to complain or to describe a problem or to express annoyance. It is often times used with always.
The teacher is always giving us so much homework. I am so tired of doing homework all the time.
When I was in high school, I did not like Derek because he was always teasing the girls.
Can you fix my car? It is making a funny noise.
Expressions of Place with Progressive Verbs
A prepositional phrase of place (e.g. at school, in the house, at the restaurant, on the playground) can be placed after the be auxiliary but before the -ing verb. In this case, the focus is on the location, not the action, of the subject. The sentence can end with the prepositional phrase and still make sense. The -ing verb merely gives extra information. Compare:
What is Michael doing?
right He is watching TV.
right He is watching TV in the living room.
wrong He is in the living room.
Where is Michael?
right He is in the living room.
right He is in the living room watching TV.
wrong He is watching TV.