- This article is about the tense. For the verb form often referred to as "the past tense (of a verb)" see preterite.
The past tense (/ˈpæs(t) ˈtens/) is a tense found in English and related languages. It is used for expressing an action or state that is distant from the speaker. It is one of two tenses used in English, the other being the present tense.
The past tense is used to distance the language.
There is an important distinction to be made between time and tense - the time-tense distinction. The past tense can describe events that occur in past time, present time or future time. This is contrary to its name; more logical suggestions such as "marked tense", "distant tense" exist but are unlikely to catch on.
With aspect, we get these:
|Simple (i.e. none)||Past simple||I did something.|
|Perfect||Past perfect||I had done something.|
|Progressive||Past continuous / past progressive||I was doing something.|
|Perfect and progressive||Past perfect continuous / past perfect progressive||I had been doing something.|
Distinct from aspect, the past tense may express modality using modal verbs. The modal verb preterites are "could", "might", "must", "should", and "would". "Ought (to)". "Needed" and "dared" are also (rarely) used as semi-modal verbs:
|Present tense modal verb||Preterite|
|ought (to)||ought (to)|
Aspect and modality
|Past simple||Amodal past simple
e.g. I did something
|Modal past simple|
e.g. I could do something
|Past perfect||Amodal past perfect
e.g. I had done something
|Modal past perfect|
e.g. I could have done something
|Past progressive||Amodal past progressive
e.g. I was doing something
|Modal past progressive|
e.g. I could be doing something
|Past perfect progressive||Amodal past perfect progressive
e.g. I had been doing something
|Modal past perfect progressive|
e.g. I could have been doing something.
The past tense is learnt subsequently to the present tense.