Talking about the (distant) past and narrative tense

In this post you get a double whammy of past tenses. These four tenses will enable to you talk about the distant past, or to go further back in the past when you are talking about any past time; and, you will have the narrative tenses down.

So imagine you are talking to a friend. You might start the conversation by generally speaking about something that you have done (present perfect). Then they will want more details.

So you give them a context for your story using past continuous.

This was when I was studying engineering at university.

But you also might need to give some precise information about times and dates, using past simple.

It was 2012, which was a great year for me.

The story develops.

The sun was shining over the lake as I was sitting in the library reading.

I looked up. I saw my friend Jacob run over the field and into the library. He did not see me.

Negative past simple does not use the past tense of the verb but instead uses did not + infinitive.

But now you need to explain why Jacob was coming into the library. You can use the past perfect here to explain the events leading up to the events that are current to the narrative.

He had text me thirty minutes earlier saying that he needed to speak to me.

But you need to keep the current narrative going, so the next event in the timeline of the story will use past simple again. Narrative moves from event to event with past simple.

So I waited in my chair for him to find me. I was not in the front of the library so it took him     some time to find me. When he did, he looked angry.

Again we will need to explain why he was angry and what events took place before the time of the story.

He asked me where I had been the night previous.

This sentence is more complicated because it is reported speech. Do not worry about that for now.

I did not know what to say. He demanded to know. He told me that he knew. He asked me    if I had been with Anna. Anna was his girlrfriend. He knew. My face went red; I had been    with his girlfriend the previous night. And that is when Jacob punched me in the face in the university library. It is a miracle that we are now best friends.


Written by James R. McCance for Aston School

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