Glossary: past tense


The past tense is a grammatical marking on verbs. (See also inflection.) E.g. the verb in She sounded tired is a past tense form (compare the present tense form in She sounds tired).

Verbs in the past tense are commonly used to:

  • talk about the past
  • talk about imagined situations
  • make a request sound more polite.

Most verbs take a suffix –ed, to form their past tense, but many commonly-used verbs are irregular.

See also tense.

  • Tom and Chris showed me their new TV. [names an event in the past]
  • Antonio went on holiday to Brazil. [names an event in the past; irregular past of go]
  • I wish I had a puppy. [names an imagined situation, not a situation in the past]
  • I was hoping you'd help tomorrow. [makes an implied request sound more polite]

Tense and aspect in fiction

Exploring the use of tense and aspect in a range of literary texts

In this activity we will examine some short extracts from novels. The idea is to look at the tense and aspect forms used, and think about how they are used to unfold the action of the story.

Verb images

This lesson asks students to think about tense and aspect, what they mean, and how else we can communicate those meanings.


  • Identify verb tense and aspect. 
  • Explain the meaning of verb tense and aspect. 
  • Use multimodal literacy skills to present information from words as pictures. 

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will be describing some pictures using language, and then drawing some pictures to describe language.

Verb images: Activity

The girls are rehearsing a song.

Several boys were playing football.

Sally has studied French for three years.

John has been studying French for one hour.


Y6 GPaS Test: Present or past tense?

In each of the following examples, indicate whether the highlighted verb is in present or past tense:

Expressing time

Grammar is important for expressing information about time. It helps us to locate situations in the past, present or future, and to describe how situations unfold over time.

This is typically done by using different forms of the verb. For example:


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