Simple past, part II: use

mar 28, 2011 No Comments by

We’ve seen how the simple past is formed, now let’s take a look at its use.

Definite time reference:
Did you watch that film yesterday?
He went at the end of November.
Their grandfather died four weeks ago.

Without explicit time markers: in these cases, a definite past time may be implied by the situation, or by assumptions of shared and general knowledge.
Charles Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” in installments.
(we know that Dickens lived and died a long time ago, separated from the present)
Do you know Fiona? Because I went to school with her.
(the speaker’s school days were a long time ago, in a time separated from the moment of speaking)
Did you receive my fax?
(the speaker is looking back to the point of time when he sent the fax as separated in his mind from the present. If he says Have you received my fax?, the speaker considers the event in terms of the present moment)

Events and states: the past simple may be used for single events, or habitual events or states in the past.

Single events
He suffered a head wound, for which he went to hospital and received ten stitches.
And then we went out and phoned my brother.

Habitual events
He visited the opera regularly and mostly hung out in local cafés.
We did a lot of acting at school.

States
She looked a bit upset.
Where were you? I’ve been worried.

Source: Cambridge Grammar of English.

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