In this lesson you will learn all about what narrative tenses are and how to use them to tell stories and anecdotes.
“This morning I was listening to the radio when I heard a song that I had never heard before.”
When we tell stories or anecdotes about things that happened in the past, like above, we use a combination of three past tenses:
Let’s have a look at each of these tenses and how and why we use them.
The past simple is the form where regular verbs end in -ed. We use the auxiliary verb “did” for negative sentences and questions in the past simple:
|Past Simple +||Past Simple –||Past Simple ?|
|He wanted a drink.||He didn’t want a drink||Did he want a drink?|
We generally use the past simple to explain events in chronological order:
“I woke up, I got up, I had a shower and then got dressed and went to work.”
The past continuous is used to talk about something in progress in a moment in the past. It uses the auxiliary “to be” (was / were) and the gerund (—ing).
|Past Continuous +||Past Continuous –||Past Continuous ?|
|She was waiting.||She wasn’t waiting.||Was she waiting?|
In fact, the past simple if sufficient to tell a basic story, but sometimes we want to describe two things happening simultaneously. To do this we can use the past simple and past continuous together:
“When I was driving to work I saw an accident.”
or if both things are happening for a while we can use the past continuous for both:
“While I was driving to work I was listening to the radio.”
We can also use the past continuous to establish the context of a story:
“This happened to me when I was driving to work.”
“When I was living in Paris, something unusual happened to me.”
When we are already talking about the past and want to mention something that happened before that time, we need to use the past perfect. The past perfect is formed with the auxiliary verb “had”.
|Past Perfect +||Past Perfect –||Past Perfect ?|
|They had eaten.||They hadn’t eaten||Had they eaten?|
So if I lose my keys, but I only notice that i have lost them when I get home, I could say:
“When I got home, I realised that I had lost my keys.”
This use of the past perfect makes it clear that the “had lost my keys” past had happened before the “when I got home” part.
Sometimes, when we want to emphasize that something had happened repeatedly or during a period of time, we use the past perfect continuous:
|Past Perfect Continuous+||Past Perfect Continuous-||Past Perfect Continuous?|
|They had been eating.||They hadn’t been eating.||Had they been eating?|
“When I was walking to the shop, I saw my old friend James. I hadn’t seen him for years, so we stopped and talked for a while. He explained that he had been living in London for the past few years and had recently returned home. We exchanged phone numbers and made a plan to meet up for a drink a few days later.”
Do you think that you understand this topic? Check out the exercises below to check your comprehension!