English Past Tense Comparison

Introduction

The past tenses in English Grammar are the simple past, the past progressive, also past continuous, the past perfect and the past perfect progressive, also past perfect continuous. We use each tense to express different information about when and how a past action took place.

Learn the difference between the past tenses in English grammar and when to use them correctly in a sentence. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt.

Example

When I came home last Monday, I had a message on my answering machine. It said, “Meet me in the park.” I didn’t know who the message was from, but I was curious.

The sun was shining. So after I’d checked all the messages on my answering machine, I put on my jacket, took my bag and went to the park. And there he was: Luke, an old friend from school. I hadn’t seen him for ages.

Now he was standing there smiling at me. He was holding a flower that he’d bought in a nearby flowershop.

I was glad to see him. He looked relieved, as he’d already been waiting there for a few hours.

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Usage

The chart below provides an overview of the differences between the English past tenses: simple past, past progressive, past perfect simple and past perfect progressive.

tenseusage
simple past

normal narrative past form used for sequentially occurring actions

Example:
When I came home last Monday, I had a message on my answering machine.
It said, “Meet me in the park.”
I didn’t know who the message was from, but I was curious.
I put on my jacket, took my bag and went to the park.
And there he was: Luke, an old friend from school.
I was glad to see him.
He looked relieved.
past progressive

emphasises the progression/process of an action

Example:
The sun was shining.
He was standing there smiling at me.
He was holding a flower.
past perfect simple

action that took place before another previously mentioned action

Example:
After I had checked all the messages on my answering machine, I put on my jacket…
I hadn’t seen him for ages.
He was holding a flower that he had bought in a nearby flower shop.
past perfect progressive

emphasises how long an action lasted until a certain point in the past

Example:
He looked relieved, as he had already been waiting there for a few hours.

Conjugation

For information on the conjugation of these tenses, see: