Welcome to this week’s blog on how to use past tenses with a variety of time words (time conjunctions). This post continues on from where last week’s post finished. If you haven’t read the first post, or the Grammar section yet, it might be a good idea to start there.
This week you will see how different time words can be used with different tenses, and how those time words help to show the order of past events. Using time conjunctions also allows you create more complex sentences, which is generally a better choice in the FCE exam than just using lots of simple sentences. So, without further ado, here it is.
The following sentences are designed to show you how to use each of the 4 past tenses with a range of time conjunctions (such as when, as, while, by the time, before, after etc.) Each sentence starts the same way, but finishes with a different tense.
- When you look at the following sentences, you should decide which action happened first, and which one was second ( I arrived or the movie started).
- In addition, each sentence uses the time conjunction “when”. When is a versatile time conjunction which can mean different things in different sentences. For each of the following sentences you should also find an alternative for the word when. For example, you might need to use before, after, by the time or as.
1. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie started.
2. When I arrived at the cinema the movie was starting.
3. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie had started.
4. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie had been running for 15 minutes.
- Notice that in all 4 sentences, the first clause uses when with past simple tense.
- The second clause in each sentence uses a different past tense. Past simple in sentence 1, past continuous in sentence 2, past perfect in the 3rd sentence and finally past perfect continuous in the 4th sentence.
So, which action was first and which one happened second? What does “when“ mean in each case?
Sentence 1. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie started.
In this sentence both clauses are in the past simple. In this case, 1st I arrived at the cinema and 2nd the movie started. In this sentence, the word “when” could be replaced with AFTER.
- “After” is used with the first action/event.
Sentence 2. When I arrived at the cinema the movie was starting.
In this sentence there are 2 actions which overlap. The movie starting is the longer action which is interrupted by me arriving (and continued after I arrived). Although they overlap, the movie started just before I arrived, so the movie started 1st, and 2nd I arrived. However, as both events overlap, I could use the word AS instead of when.
- “As” is used when 2 actions overlap or happen at the same time. As is used with the shorter action.
- If I changed the order of the sentence, I could use “While” with the longer action
(e.g. While the movie was starting, I arrived)
Sentence 3. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie had started.
In this sentence, The movie started 1st and I arrived 2nd. However, in this sentence I begin with the second action When I arrived at the cinema and then talk about something which happened before that – the movie had started. This is why past perfect tense is used to describe past before the past.
- Past perfect simple tense is used to describe past before the past when the focus is a completed action (or you are using a state verb which cannot be used in the continuous form e.g. feel, think, know etc.)
- In this sentence when can be replaced by BY THE TIME.
- “By the time” is usually used with either past perfect tense or past perfect continuous when talking about the past.
- It also means the same as “before”.
Sentence 4. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie had been running for 15 minutes.
This sentence is very similar to sentence 3. The only difference is that past perfect continuous tense is used with an action that was not complete. Therefore, When I arrived at the cinema happened 2nd and the movie had been running for 15 minutes before that (1st).
- Past perfect continuous tense is used when the first action was not complete when/ until the second action occurred
- It is used to focus on the length of time (for 15 minutes) rather than on the completed action.
- Depending on the circumstances, the first action may or may not continue after the second action occurs.
So there you have it. Past tenses and how they work with different time conjunctions. Hopefully this has been good revision for the last post on past tenses, and maybe something new added in with the time conjunctions.
Use the link below to test what you have learned with a Kahoot. It will be open for the next 2 weeks.
Now that you know how to use past tenses, the next post will be on using future tenses, which are actually very similar grammatically to past tenses. Don’t forget that you can use the Contact form to ask a question, or request a topic. See you next time and good luck with your study.