Learn English Tenses: Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect, or Present Perfect?



I'm Rebecca from engVid, and this lesson is going to save you years of English mistakes.


Because it's a diagnostic lesson.

In just a few minutes you'll find out what you know and don't know regarding

the past tenses in English.

And why is that important?

For two reasons.

First, you can focus on what you don't know and improve those areas and improve quickly,

and second because the past tenses are among the most important tenses that we use in English.


And at the end of the lesson after you've done the exercise and you find out what you

might get wrong or right, I'll show you exactly how to improve, what you can do.

Some simple steps.


Let's get started.

So, number one: "It rains all day yesterday."


So these are all sentences in the past tense.


There are four tenses we're covering: Past simple, past continuous, present perfect,

and past perfect.


So, all of these sentences have some mistakes.

You try to find out: What's the mistake?

If you know, then you know that part.

If you don't, we'll see what to do.

So: "It rains all day yesterday."

What's wrong with that sentence?


So, we're talking about yesterday so we know it's in the past, so what's wrong is here,

this verb is right now in the present simple.

It should be...

It should be in the past.

So then this sentence should be in the past simple.

So if you didn't know that, then...

Then you need to review the past simple.


Number two: "Have you seen Maria last week?

Have you seen Maria last week?"

What's wrong with that sentence?

Or that question, rather.

Can you find the mistake?

Okay, so the mistake is this:

When we say: "Have you seen", that's which tense?

Present perfect.

But then we go on to say: "Have you seen Maria last week?"

That's a problem, because when we use the present perfect tense, we cannot use a finished

time with it.

If you use a finished time, like last week, then you have to change this question and

make it into past simple.

For example: "Did you see Maria last week?"

That's one way to fix that question.

And the other way, if we wanted to keep it present perfect-right?-we would say:

"Have you seen Maria this week?" for example.



Of course, that has a different meaning, but if you're going to use this tense then if

you have a timeframe you can only talk about time which is either still going on, like

this week, today, this month, this year, and so on.


So if you made a mistake here, remember to review present perfect.


Just make a note of that.

Next: "Gary studied when I arrived.

Gary studied when I arrived."

What's wrong there?

There is a little mistake there, and it's here.


This should be: "Gary was studying"-right?-"when I arrived".

Now, "was studying" is past continuous.

So, why do we need past continuous there?

Because the action of studying takes some time.


It doesn't happen in one second.

So he was studying, and studying, and studying, and then in the middle of this studying I arrived.

"Arrived" doesn't take time, so "arrived" can be in the past simple tense.

That's fine.

I arrived, it's finished, it's over.

But Gary was studying, and studying, and studying, and studying, and I came in the middle of that.


So these are the kinds of things you have to know about these tenses in order to use

them correctly.

So, if you made a mistake here, remember to review past continuous.

Remember at the end of the lesson I'll tell you exactly how you can review these.


Next, number four: "When have you sent the email?"


"When have you sent the email?"


So, the problem here, again, is that the tense that's used is present perfect.

But with present perfect we cannot use the word "when".

If you use the question word "when", then you need to change this entire question to

past simple.

"When did you send the email?"


"When did you send the email?"

Because when I ask you that question you're going to tell me sometime in the past that's

finished and over.

So that's past simple, and not present perfect.

So if you made a mistake here, you should really review past simple, but more importantly

also, again, present perfect.


A little bit of both.

If you just said here: "Have you sent the email?" then it's fine and it's present perfect.


But if you need to use the question word "when", remember to change it to past simple.


Number five: "Did you ever see this movie?

Did you ever see this movie?"

Now, this one is almost correct because most of the time we use another tense, but you

could use this.


"Did you ever see this movie?"

It's possible that you will hear people saying that, but as a grammar teacher and as an English

teacher I'm telling you that actually what you should say here is:

"Have you ever seen this movie?"


Because "ever" is one of those words that we in fact do use a lot with the present perfect


So when you see the word "ever": "Have you ever seen this movie?

Have you ever read this book?

Have you ever visited Japan?"


Questions like that, really, you should be using present perfect and not past simple.

So this one is also present perfect.

Remember to review that if you got that wrong.

Number six: "When the guests arrived, I already cooked dinner.

When the guests arrived, I already cooked dinner."

So what's wrong there?

The clue is actually from this word, "already".


So here we are talking about what?

We're talking about two actions that happened in the past.

But one happened before the other.

What happened first?

"I already cooked dinner", right?

I cooked dinner first, and then the guests arrived.

So: "When the guests arrived I...

I had already cooked dinner."

So that is an example of when we can use the past perfect.

Past perfect is used when we're talking about two actions and you want to show that one

of them happened first in the past, although both of them happened in the past.

The past perfect part of the sentence shows you what happened first in the past.

So, if you didn't know that then please review the past perfect.


You're doing fine.

Don't worry.

You're doing great.

Number seven: "I wasn't understanding what you said.

I wasn't understanding what you said."

Well, that's not right.

It should be:

"I didn't understand what you said."


Because there are certain verbs which we cannot use in the continuous form.

They are called stative verbs.

So you have to know what they are, and when you learn the continuous tense you usually

come across this part of the lesson, stative verbs, and you need to know there are certain

verbs you cannot use with...

In this continuous form.

So you can never say: "I'm not understanding"

or "I'm understanding", or "I was understanding".


You can only use it in the simple form.

So if you got that wrong, then please check your past continuous tense.


You need to know when you learn that tense that there's certain verbs, stative verbs

which we cannot use in that kind of continuous form.


And the last one: "When I reached the airport, the flight already left."

Okay, we did one similar to this back here.

"When I reached the airport, the flight already left."

So, again, what's going on here?

Two actions in the past, and you want to show that one of those actions happened first.

The action that happened first we have to express using the past perfect tense, which

means we need to say: "The flight had already left."

When I reached the airport, before that the flight had already left.

So if you weren't sure about that or you got it wrong, then please review the past perfect tense.


Now, I know there's quite a lot to do, but you can master it.

But if you don't understand why it was wrong, that's what I want you to be able to do because

you're not going to have a teacher with you all the time.

You are your own teacher, so as you get better at understanding what the reasons were why

these were wrong, you will be able to improve your English very, very quickly.

So, what should you do now?

Well, you should do this: Go to our website at www.engvid.com.

There, you can do a quiz on this subject.


On these tenses that we did.

That's the first thing.

Second, you can watch hundreds of other videos about these tenses and you may...

You will find lessons on past simple, past continuous, present perfect, past perfect.

You can watch those.


Also, I've written a resource which you can look at and you can download it for free,

and it's called: "English Verb Tenses", you can also refer to that.

And besides that, you can subscribe to my channel because I have a lot of lessons

that are going to save you lots and lots of time.

Okay? Your time is precious.

Learn the important mistakes that students make, which I know because

I've been teaching English for more than 25 years, and I know I can help you.


Thanks very much for watching and good luck with your English.

Bye for now.