To describe a past experience in English you can use various tenses. The commonest are the past simple, that is used for an action that is over, the past continuous, that is used to describe an ongoing action in the past and the present perfect, simple or continuous. Each tense conveys a different meaning to the action or the experience it describes, so using this tenses correctly is of the utmost importance. The following table,briefly summarize,  as a general rule, the use of these tenses in the past.

Tense Rule Examples
Past simple It is used…

  • to describe an action or an experience which took place in the past and that it is by now over
  • the use the past simple is often accompanied by adverbs or expressions of time which clearly put the action into the past
  • Yesterday I bought a new shirt
  • Did you go out with Helen last week?
  • In 2010 I visited Australia for the first and last time
Past continuous It is used ….

  • to describe an ongoing action in the past. The ongoing action is often interrupted by another action described in simple past.
  • “When” is used to indicate that the ongoing action is interrupted by another
  • “While” is used to indicate that two actions or more are taking place simoultaneously in the past


  • I was tidying up my bedroom when she dropped by
  • While she was mowing the lawn in the garden, I was painting the fence.
  • What were you doing yesterday around 4 p.m.? Nothing special, I was watching tv.
Present perfect simple or continuous It is used ….

  • to describe an action that began in the past but still continues or has repercussions in the present
  • when the present perfect continuous is used it is the continuity of the action that is also underlined (something that has been done almost without a stop)
  • These tenses are often accompanied by adverbs of time such as “recently”, “lately”, “in the last days”, etc….
  • He’s worked in London for five years
  • We’ve had a lot to do lately.
  • She’s been cleaning her house during the last five days or so.
  • They’ve been listening to him for a week or so without understanding the real motivations of his bad behaviour


Past Experiences

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