How to Talk about a Problem in English with the Past Tense

by Cassie Wright
September 17, 2019

Let’s talk about problems in English

For instance, when was the last time you dealt with a problem? What happened?

Can you tell me that story in English?

Whether you just want to tell a story or you need to talk about a serious problem, it’s important to be able to let someone know what happened in the past. If you can’t give someone the details about what happened and when, it can lead to a lot of frustration, and it might even make the problem worse. 

Most importantly, if you have trouble with the English past tense, how are you supposed to ask someone to help you fix your problem?  

How do you talk about the past in English?

When it comes to the English past tense, there are four different forms you can use. They are: the past simple, the past continuous, the past perfect, and the past perfect continuous. You can use all of these to talk about issues or problems.

Let’s review the English past tenses.

The past simple

The past simple is one of the most common forms of the past tense you’ll use.

For most verbs, you can form the past simple by adding an -ed at the end of the verb. For example, I walked to work.” However, there are also a number of irregular verbs that don’t follow this rule. This includes common verbs like to be, to have, and to do. It’s a good idea to memorise these, but remember that continued practise will help them become familiar.

When to use it

Use the past simple to talk about completed events that happened in the past, including:

  • A single event, action, or state.
  • A series of events.

I woke up at 7 in the morning. Then, I brushed my teeth and took a very cold shower. I was tired. 

Can you think of some examples with the past simple to talk about a problem?

man-brushing-teeth

The past continuous

This is another common form you’ll use to talk about past events. To form the past continuous, you need to use both the past tense of the verb to be and the -ing form of the verb. For example, I was walking to work.”

When to use it

Use the past continuous to describe events that happened over a period of time. It’s often used to set the scene of a story or provide background information.

I was eating dinner when my friend called. She was complaining about a problem with her landlady. 

The past perfect

The past perfect form is less common, but it can still be useful. It’s created by using had with the past participle of a verb. For example, I had walked to work.”

When to use it

You would need to use the past perfect to talk about an event or action that happened before another action in the past.

I had finished cleaning the dirty fridge before I fell asleep.

The past perfect continuous

This form of the past tense is also less common. You can create it by combining had been with the -ing form of a verb. For example, I had been walking to work.”

When to use it

Use the past perfect continuous to talk about an action that occurred for some time in the past before another action or event.

I had been living in Germany for 20 years before I got fed up with sausages and moved to England.

It’s your turn

Now that you know how to form the past tense, the best thing you can do is practise using it to talk about what happened. That way, if you find yourself in a bit of trouble while travelling or working with English speakers, you can find a solution without worrying about your English skills. Sign up for your free week trial with Lingoda. 

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