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Grammatik auf Englisch - Vergangenheit: Es kommt auf die Nuancen an

Schlagwörter: Grammatik auf Englisch, Englisch Grammatik, Englische Grammatik, Englisch Grammar, Gramatik auf Englisch, Englisch Gramatik, Englische Gramatik, Englisch Grammar, Englische Zeiten, Grammatik, Zeit, Datum, VergangenheitGrammatik - Vergangenheit: Es kommt auf die Nuancen an

We’ve reviewed the past tenses and discussed their formation before, but we haven’t spent much time discussing the nuances of their use. Let’s take a look.

Simple past
Formation: verb stem + ed


The simple past is used for the following purposes:

To describe an action that was completed at a specific time in the past
I printed the report out this morning.

To describe a past habit that no longer exists
I called her every Tuesday morning to review project status. ( I don’t anymore. )

Simple past nuance
Would and used to are formations of the simple past that express special cases.
Would, when used with an adverb expressing frequency, is sometimes used to describe past habits that have a feeling of being far back in the past. This formation has the feeling of ‘in those days’.

Before the merger went through, my manager would always snap at us whenever we disagreed with him. ( He doesn’t snap at us anymore. )

If you stress the adverb of frequency, it adds the feeling that the past habit was annoying:

No matter what we were trying to discuss, Martin would never stop talking about his wife.

Used to is also used to describe habits in the past, but can also be used to describe states:

I used to file my nails during my lunch break.
Peter used to like working here, but it seems like the thrill is gone.


Past continuous
Formation: was/were + present participle


All continuous tenses express a feeling of on-going activity and duration. The past continuous is used:

To describe a series of events
When I arrived at the office, my office mate was sitting at her desk, my phone was ringing, and my boss was waiting for me by the door.

To describe an activity that occurred over a period of time in the past
What were you doing this morning? Sarah was doodling the whole time Larry was talking.

To describe an interrupted, unfinished, or repeated activity

Interrupted activity: I was writing my quarterly sales report when Jennifer stepped into my office and asked me to have lunch.

Unfinished activity: What were you doing yesterday evening? I was going through the data you gave me in the afternoon.

Repeated activity: We were making foot mats all day on the assembly line.


Past perfect
Formation: had + past participle

The past perfect is used to describe an action or situation that happened before the events in your narrative:

The wave of downsizing continued even af ter management had promised it would end.

Past perfect nuance
A number of conjunctions are used in the past perfect to strengthen the feeling of completion: after, as soon as, before, by the time, once, unless, until.

I didn’t notice the leak until after I entered the room.

English likes consistent sentence structure, but repetitive verb formations sound inelegant. A series of events described in the past perfect, for example, can easily sound inelegant.

I realized I was too sick to get anything done only after I had arrived at the office, had turned on my laptop, and had checked my email.

Take it one step further
In sentences where the subject is the same throughout, it’s better style to drop the repeated verbs after the tense has been made clear with the first verb:

I realized I was too sick to get anything done only after I had arrived at the office, turned on my laptop, and checked my email.

Past perfect continuous
Formation: had been + present participle

Analogous to the past continuous, the past perfect continuous is used to describe an activity that occurred over a period of time in the past up until a certain point:

Marita had been doing everything in her power over the last three weeks to bring the project to a successful close.

Like the past continuous, the past perfect continuous can be used to express unfinished or repeated activities:

He hadn’t heard Mark’s idea because he had been talking.

Other nuance
There are a few phrases used in narration that tell us when something happens. Note the fine difference in meaning:

At the beginning…: marks the starting point.
In the beginning and at first suggest a contrast will be made. Sometimes the contrast is introduced with but later:

At the beginning, the CEO spoke.
At first, we thought Elton John would sing, but later, we realized he wouldn’t.


At the end…: marks the ending point.

In the end suggests a contrast will be made. Sometimes the contrast is introduced with before:

At the end, Elton John sang.
In the end, we finished on time. Before, we weren’t quite sure we would.


Finally and eventually imply a long wait, without implying anything about whether the outcome is positive or negative. At last implies a very long wait. Finally usually belongs before the verb.

We finally decided to wrap up the meeting and move on.

The future in the past
Sometimes narration requires referring to the future from a point in the past that has been expressed using a past tense. This requires use of the past continuous or going to + verb:

Martin was meeting his boss for dinner, and they were going to have drinks after that.

Schlagwörter: Grammatik auf Englisch, Englisch Grammatik, Englische Grammatik, Englisch Grammar, Gramatik auf Englisch, Englisch Gramatik, Englische Gramatik, Englisch Grammar, Englische Zeiten, Grammatik, Zeit, Datum, VergangenheitGrammatik - Vergangenheit: Es kommt auf die Nuancen an

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