Past Tense

Past Tense – Definition and Concept

The tense of the sentence is the time of occurrence or execution of the verb with respect to the time of framing the sentence. Simply put, it is the period in time that the verb of the sentence refers to.

If the verb refers to a time before (an activity or occurrence happened/was happening before) the statement is made (yesterday, many years ago, long back, before) then the verb is in the past tense.

  • You were a terrible liar.
  • I was completing the assignments.
  • He had been present for all the classes.
  • The management was gunning for your suspension.
  • They had been producing a pathogen which is incurable.

At the end of the article, the readers will be able to:

  • Classify the past tense of sentence based on time period and status of completion
  • Apply various auxiliaries on main verbs to create a sentence in a particular tense
  • Understand the influence of modals on verbs of a sentence

Different forms of the Past Tense

Based on the Status of Completion, there are four different forms of the Past Tense. We study these forms now.

SIMPLE PAST TENSE

In the simple form, the verb is used to refer general occurrence once over the entire time frame, or regular occurrence throughout the entire time frame. Note the following examples:

  • They reimbursed all of my travel expenses. (General occurrence once in the past)
  • We brought cookies to these kids every afternoon. (Regular occurrence in the past)
  • I paid for his tuition. (General occurrence in the past)
  • She took her dog out for a walk every evening. (Regular occurrence in the past)
  • The building did not sustain the impact of another earthquake. (General occurrence in the past)
  • The council assembled here once every fortnight. (Regular occurrence in the past)

PAST CONTINUOUS TENSE

In the continuous form, the verb is used to show continuity or progress of the action in any particular time frame. Continuous form uses the present participle form of the main verb in the active voice (with past form of the auxiliary be) and past participle form of the main verb (along with the present participle being) in the passive voice. Note the following examples:

  • We were working on the next update. (Activity in progress in the past)
  • It was trying to download the update. (Activity in progress in the past)
  • They were releasing an update last month. (Activity in progress in the past)

PAST PERFECT TENSE

In the perfect form, the verb is used to show complete execution or completed occurrence of the action in any particular time frame. Continuous form uses the past participle form of the main verb (with past form of the auxiliary have) in the active voice and past participle form of the main verb (along with the past participle been) in the passive voice. Note the following examples:

  • We had worked on the next update. (Activity completed in the past)
  • It had tried to download the update. (Activity completed in the past)
  • They had released an update last month. (Activity completed in the past)

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS TENSE

In the perfect continuous form, the verb is used to show partial execution or partial occurrence of the action in any particular time frame. Perfect continuous form uses the present participle form of the main verb (along with the past participle been and past forms of the auxiliary have) in the active voice and past participle form of the main verb (along with the past participle been and past form of the auxiliary be) in the passive voice. Note the following examples:

  • We had been working on the next update. (Activity partially completed in the past)
  • It had been trying to download the update. (Activity partially completed in the past)
  • They had been releasing updates since last month. (Activity partially completed in the past)

Auxiliaries and Modals in the Past Tense

Use of Auxiliaries

Two auxiliaries be and have are used in the past form to frame sentences in different tenses. In the simple form, these verbs are used as primary verbs.

  • It was a sunny day.
  • They were a tough opponent to beat.
  • As of yesterday, we had
  • The mansion was empty yesterday.

In the other forms, they will be used as auxiliaries.

  • It was going to rain yesterday.
  • They had remained a tough opponent to beat.
  • As of last week, we had gained the upper hand.
  • The mansion was emptied

Use of Modals

The Present and Past tense of the Verb uses modals as additional support.

  • It might be a sunny day. (Root form of is)
  • As of yesterday, we may have gained the upper hand. (Root form of have)
  • They may be a tough opponent to beat. (Root form of is)

In every example, the modal reduces every main verb to its root form irrespective of the tense, as we see in the above examples. However, we face an unusual difficulty while encountering and using modals.

The use of modals on verbs in the Past Tenses creates confusion about the tense of the sentence. Note the examples in the discussion on modals. The addition of a modal reduces the verb from past form to root form and thus the sentence resembles their present tense equivalent.

This means that the sentence takes the Simple Present form (with modal) if initially expressed in Simple Past form (without modal), Present Continuous form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Continuous form (without modal), Present Perfect form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Perfect form (without modal), and Present Perfect Continuous form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Perfect Continuous form (without modal).

Readers can verify the above statement by comparing the section on modals of the articles on the corresponding forms of Present and Past Tense, especially the examples of sentences after the implementation of modals.

Thus in situations like these, the role of adverbs becomes quite important, as they are the determiner of the tense of these sentences. Sometimes, even after the use of adverbs, the tense of the sentence is left ambiguous. In that case, irrespective of the form of the sentence before the inclusion of modals, we identify these sentences as being in the Present Tense. The subtype of the Present Tense can thereafter be determined by the conventional methods discussed in the articles on Present Tense.

Conclusion

This concludes the initial discussion on the Past Tense. When we study each of the past tense in particular, we will explore the general expressions, auxiliaries, commonly used modals and the passive forms of sentences of these tenses.