The Simple Past Tense
I no link to other times
We use verbs in their simple past tense forms to express
1. actions beginning and completing in the past time:
He walked into the canteen.
She saw a film last night.
Did you see the boss?
2. habits in the past time:
I always carried an umbrella.
He never drank liquor.
II structural use
The past tense forms are used to ‘report’ past tense and present perfect forms of
He said, ‘I’m enjoying myself thorouly.’
He said (that) he was enjoying himself thoroughly.
He said, ‘I slept well.’ (past tense --direct speech)
He said (that) he had slept well. (past perfect--indirect or reported speech)
She said, ‘I have already read that book.’ (present perfect--direct speech)
She said (that) she had already read that book. (past perfect--reported speech)
III with or without time expressions
(1) duration (length of time) of past time (no link to the present time):
I lived in Delhi from July 1990 to June 1998.
Didn’t you meet your cousin at all throughout your stay in London?
She studied music while she was in Paris.
I was in North Africa for sixteen years.
(2) a particular point of past time (no link to the present time):
I heard the news a while ago.
Did they go to the dentist’s twice last week?
We visited our parents yesterday.
I was born in 1942.
I became very angry when I heard the news.
(3) past time without ‘time’ adverbs (no link to the present time):
Did you lock the front door?
Did you see the boss?
His eyes were open but he didn’t appear to hear me.
Napolean marched his army to Russia.
IV Link to other times
Time and Tense
In sections I, II, and III subsections, we saw through sample sentences that Past tense forms referred to the past time. But this is not always the case. In other words, we use past tense form to refer to present or future time.
i. implied reference to present time:
I always knew you were my friend. (link to the present time)
Did you ever hear such nonsense? (link to the present time)
These are natural idiomatic expressions, using past tense. But they are linked to the present time because these statements are generally made in the present time very close to the past time.
The direct meaning of the first sentence is in the past time: you helped me at a time when I needed help. The implied meaning is in the present time: you proved it and therefore I know you are still my friend.
The direct meaning of the second sentence is in the past time: what someone said was complete nonsense. The implied meaning is in the present time: the speaker is shocked or surprised.
ii. implied politeness or courtesy in the present time
Did you want to see me now? (to a superior)
I wondered if you could help me. (to a stranger/ an acquaintance)
I thought you might like some flowers. (to a lady)
Using the past tense for present time activities, the speakers of these sentences are
being polite or courteous when this is required or necessary.
iii. present or future time actions that are not true but imagined to be true:
I wish I had a memory like yours. (Then I could win prizes like you.)
(=I don’t have a memory like yours.)
‘Is the report ready?’
‘When do you want it?’
‘(I wanted it) yesterday.’
(=I want it at least by today evening.)
If you really worked hard, you’d soon get promoted.
(=You’re not working hard, but I imagine the condition and the result.)
If only I knew her response!
(= She hasn’t responded, so I don’t know what her response will be.)
It’s (high) time he realized his error. (But he hasn’t realized his error.)
I wish I were/was a bird. (But I cannot be.)
She wants to fly but I would rather she went by train.
(=I don’t want her to travel by air.)
You look as if /as though you were slapped.
(You behaviour or look suggests that someone has slapped you.)
Suppose we spent next weekend at Ooty?
[=how nice it’d be (We’re not going to Ooty but let’s imagine so.)]
If I had the money, I’d buy a flat.[I don’t have the money but I imagine so]
If only I knew her response! [I don’t know what her response would be]
Suppose we spent the next weekend at Ooty? [we have no plan to go to Ooty]
It’s time he realized his error. [I expect him to realize his error but I know he will not]
I wish I were/was a bird! [I want to be free as a bird, but I know I cannot be]
In summary then we can use past tense forms to express actions in
(i) past time (I, II, III)
(ii) present time (IV)
(iii) present or future time (IV)