The past tense is a
verbtense expressing action, activity, state or being in the past of the current moment (in an absolute tensesystem), or prior to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tensesystem).
Preterite(or simple past)
# Present perfect (see
Each of these may also be found in the progressive (continuous) aspect.
Simple past is formed for
regular verbs by adding "–ed" to the root of a word. Example: "He walked to the store". A negation is produced by adding "did not" and the verb in its infinitive form. Example: "He did not walk to the store". Question sentences are started with "did" as in "Did he walk to the store?"
Simple past is used for describing acts that have already been concluded and whose exact time of occurrence is known. Furthermore, simple past is used for retelling successive events. That is why it is commonly used in storytelling.
Past progressive is formed by using the adequate form of "to be" and the verb’s present participle: "He was going to church". By inserting "not" before the main verb a negation is achieved. Example: "He was not going to church". A question is formed by prefixing the adequate form of "to be" as in "Was he going?". Past progressive is used for describing events that were in the process of occurring when a new event happened. The already occurring event is presented in past progressive, the new one in simple past. Example: "We were sitting in the garden when the thunderstorm started." Use is similar to other languages'
Present perfect simple is formed by combining "have/has" with the main verb’s past participle form: "I have arrived". A negation is produced by inserting "not" after "have/has": "I have not arrived". Questions in present perfect are formulated by starting a sentence with "have/has": "Has she arrived?"
Present perfect simple is used for describing a past action’s effect on the present: "He has arrived. Now he is here". This holds true for events that have just been secluded as well as for events that have not yet occurred.
Present perfect progressive is formed by prefixing have/has before the
grammatical particle"been" and the verb’s present participle form: "We have been waiting". A negation is expressed by including "not" between "have/has" and "been": "They have not been eating". As with present perfect simple, for forming a question, "have/has" is put at the beginning of a sentence: "Have they been eating?"
Present perfect progressive is used for describing an event that has been going on until the present and may be continued in the future. It also puts emphasis on how an event has occurred. Very often "since" and "for" mark the use of present perfect progressive: "I have been waiting for five hours / I have been waiting since three o’clock."
Furthermore, there is another version of past tense possible: past perfect, similar to other languages'
Past perfect simple is formed by combining the simple past form of "to have" with the simple past form of the main verb: "We had shouted". A negation is achieved by including "not" after "had": "You had not spoken". Questions in past perfect always start with "had: Had he laughed?"
Past perfect simple is used for describing secluded events that have occurred before something else followed. The event that is closer to the present is given in simple past tense: "After we had visited our relatives in New York, we flew back to Toronto."
Past perfect progressive is formed by "had", the
grammatical particle"been" and the present participleof the main verb: "You had been waiting". For negation, "not" is included before "been": "I had not been waiting". A question sentence is formed by starting with "had": "Had she been waiting?"
If emphasis is put on the duration of a concluded action of the past, "since" and "for" are signal words for past perfect progressive: "We had been waiting at the airport since the 9 P.M. flight. / They had been waiting for three hours now.
Other Germanic languages
German uses two forms for the past tense.
*The preterite ("Präteritum") (called the "imperfect" in older grammar books, but this, a borrowing from Latin terminology, ill describes it.)
*The perfect ("Perfekt")
Germany, Austriaand Switzerland, the preterite is mostly used solely in writing, for example in stories. Use in speech is regarded as snobbish and thus very uncommon. South German dialects, such as the Bavarian dialect, as well as Yiddish, and Swiss German have no preterite, but only perfect constructs.
In certain regions, a few specific verbs are used in the preterite, for instance the modal verbs and the verbs "haben" (have) and "sein" (be).
* Es gab einmal ein kleines Mädchen, das Rotkäppchen hieß. (There "was" once a small girl who "was called" Little Red Riding Hood.)
In speech and informal writing, the "Perfekt" is used (eg, Ich "habe" dies und das "gesagt". (I said this and that)).
However, in the colloquial language of North Germany, there is still a very important difference between the preterite and the perfect, and both tenses are consequently very common. The preterite is used for past actions when the focus is on the action, whilst the present perfect is used for past actions when the focus is on the present state of the subject as a result of a previous action. This corresponds to the English usage of the preterite and the present perfect.
* Preterite: "Heute früh "kam" mein Freund." (my friend came early in the morning, and he is being talked about strictly in the past)
* Perfect: "Heute früh "ist" mein Freund "gekommen"." (my friend came early in the morning, but he is being talked about in the present)
=Other Indo-BASTERD instance, has an imperfect tense of similar form to that of German but used only for past habitual contexts like "I used to...". Similar patterns extend across most languages of the Indo-European family right through to the
Indic languagesbut also exist in non-Indo-European languages of these same regions. African languages
Semitic languagestripartite non-past/past imperfective/past perfective systems similar to those of most Indo-European languages are found, in the rest of Africa past tenses have very different forms from those found in European languages. Berber languageshave only the perfective/imperfective distinction and lack a past imperfect.
Niger-Congo languagesof West Africa do not mark past tense at all and only have a form of perfect tensederived from a word meaning "to finish". Others, such as Ewe, distinguish only between future and non-future, comprising both present and past time frames.
In complete contrast,
Bantu languagessuch as Zulu have not only a past tense, but also a less remote "proximal tense" which is used for very recent past events and is never interchangeable with the ordinary past form. These languages also differ substantially from European languages in coding tense with prefixes instead of such suffixes as English "-ed".
Other, smaller language families of Africa follow quite regional patterns. Thus the
Sudanic languagesof East Africa and adjacent Afro-Asiatic families are past of the same area with inflectional past-marking that extends into Europe, whereas more westerly Nilo-Saharan languages often do not have past marking.
Past tenses in the sense used within European languages are found within the vast Asian landmass only among the
Dravidian languagesand languages of the northern half, such as the Uralic, Mongolic, as well as Japanese and Korean. Languages in southeast Asia typically do not distinguish past tenses, though in some cases special particles are used to indicate completion of an event (such as Chinese "le").
In parts of island Asia, even less dsitinction is made, for instance in Indonesian and some other
Austronesian languages. Past tenses, do, however, exist in most Oceanic languages.
Other language families
Among Native American languages there is a split between complete absence of past marking (especially common in Mesoamerica and the Pacific Northwest) and very complex tense marking with numerous specialised remoteness distinctions, as found for instance in
Athabaskan languagesand a few languages of the Amazon Basin. Some of these tense can have specialised mythological significance and use.
A number of Native American languages like Northern Paiute stand in contrast to European notions of tense because they always use
relative tense, which means tense relative to a reference point other than the time an utterance is made. Papuan languagesof New Guinea almost always have remoteness distinctions in the past tense (though none are as elaborate as some native American languages), whilst indigenous Australian languagesusually have a single past tense without remoteness distinctions.
* [http://www.englishtenseswithcartoons.com/page/past_tenses 4 Past Tenses Explained + Exercises]
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