Expressions for time in English: talking about the past, present, and future
Published on September 27, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
There are lots of expressions for time in English. Talking about time is more than simply using the correct tense –past, present, or future– it’s also about using the correct vocabulary. A time expression helps us to be more specific about when something happened, is happening, or will happen. You can use time expressions to talk about the distant or near past and futures, and about what is happening right now. Let’s learn how to express time in English in some advanced ways.
Here is a table of some of the expressions about time in English and the time they refer to.
|a long time ago
|a little while ago
|in the near future
|in the past
|at the moment
|in the distant future
|at one time
|the day/week before
|at this time
|in an hour
|as I/we speak
|later today/this week
|in those days
|for the time being
Now let’s look at some examples of these expressions for time in sentences.
Here are two example texts using past time expressions in English.
“I was born in 1950. Back then, a lot of people didn’t have running water in their houses. In those days, people had a toilet in the backyard. That was a long time ago though, and now almost everyone in the UK has running water.”
“A little while ago, John’s tooth started hurting, so last week, he booked an appointment to see the dentist. He went yesterday and it was a surprisingly pleasant experience. At one time, the dentist was a place to be feared, but not anymore.”
Let’s look at a dialogue and a text using present time expressions in English.
Now here is a text and a dialogue using future time expressions.
“I hope that I will be promoted to department head in the near future. I work really hard so I think it will happen soon. Eventually, I want to be the CEO, but that will be in the distant future.”
Finally, here is a text using several different time expressions in English.
“At one time, hardly anyone went on vacation abroad. In the past, most people stayed in the UK and tried to enjoy the weather! In those days, only really rich people went to places like Spain or Greece. Nowadays, most people have been abroad at least once. Just last week, my husband and I booked a vacation to Italy. We’re going next month. These days, getting on a plane and crossing the sea is nothing special. And who knows what vacations will be like in the distant future? I think eventually, we will be able to vacation on the Moon or even on Mars. But that won’t happen anytime soon.”
You’re probably familiar with the time expressions yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but can you use some of the more advanced ones, like a little while ago, as we speak, and in the distant future? Use these time expressions to talk about what life was like a long time ago, what you’re doing for the time being, and what plans you have for the near future.