The aim of this grammar unit is to improve your advanced English by introducing variety into the language you produce. With solid control of tenses and novel grammar tools you can make your essays and conversation more sophisticated.

In this unit, we talk about tenses you have already studied as ‘narrative tenses’ because we are thinking about grammar in terms of stories and narratives you tell in your day to day life.

Narrative tenses

1. Past simple: we use this tense to relate the main events of a story. (e.g. I got divorced.)

2. Past continuous: this is the tense we use to introduce the context or scene. (e,g. It was raining hard.)

3. Past perfect and past perfect continuous: we use this tense in advanced English in order to talk about past events that predate the story. (I had been living there for three months already.)

Habitual actions in the past: used to

To talk about habitual events in the past you also have the following grammatical tools…

1. Used to + infinitive: this can be used instead of the past simple.

  • I used to go out with my friends a lot more when I was at university.

2. Remember that it is common to use ‘used to’ for things which you did or had before but no longer.

  • I used to wear goth clothes when I was a teenager but now I’m at uni I wear designer clothes.

Habitual actions in the past: would

1. You can use ‘would’ as an alternatiuve to ‘used to’ especially with action verbs.

  • Every summer we would go to Taragona.

2. However…  we don’t use ‘would’ to refer to situations and contexts that have changed i.e. stative verbs ( those which describe thinking, feelings, measurements, relationships, sensory information, states of being etc.)

  • I would have 3 cars but I sold one: I used to have 3 cars but I sold one.

3. However… We always use ‘would’ with a time reference.

  • When I was young, I would wait on the porch for my father to come home.

Habitual actions in the past: past continuous

1. Another way of talking about habitual actions in the past is ‘always + past continuous.’

  • Me and my brother were always getting into trouble at school.

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