Narrative tense


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Narrative tense

  1. 1. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung Sreypeuv Narrative tenses are the grammatical structures that you use when telling astory, or talking about situations and activities which happened at a defined past time.When narrating past events, DO NOT mix past and present tenses (avoid using thepresent perfect and present simple), as these will confuse the reader/listener aboutwhen things really happened.Narrative tenses are verb tenses that are used to talk about the past. They are oftenfound in stories and descriptions of past events, such as personal anecdotes.Example :The following are examples of narrative tenses:Past simple - We left on a rainy day Past continuous - It was pouring down even atmidday Past perfect - It had rained off and on for ten days Past perfect continuous- We had been waiting to escape for what seemed agesHere are the most common narrative tenses and how they are used:1. The Simple Past TenseThe past simple is used:a) To express a completed action at a definite time in the past. The separate events which occur in sequence in a narrative are expressed using this tense.E.g.I woke up (1) at 8am, had a shower (2) and ate some breakfast (3). I left for work (4)at 9am.NOTE! The past simple is the most common tense after When? in questions.Organized by Group 3 Page 1
  2. 2. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung Sreypeuvb) To express past habits.Ex: I went to school in São Paulo until my family moved to Rio.NOTE! Used to + verb is often used to express past habits and states that happenedin the past, but do not happen now. Used to cannot be used for actions which onlyoccurred once.Ex: I used to work for Petrobrás. (I dont work for them now) I didnt use to like living in Ipanema. (I do like it now) Where did you use to go for lunch? (You dont go there now)Would (+ adverb of frequency) + verb can be used to express past habits which do nothappen now.E.g. My grandfather would always read the newspaper at breakfast time. (Hedoesnt do it now)Using would instead of used to often gives an idea of nostalgia. However, if theadverb of frequency is stressed, it can give the idea that the habit was annoying.E.g. My dog would never do what I wanted it to do!NOTE! WOULD CAN NOT BE USED FOR PAST STATES!E.g.I would live in São Paulo. IS WRONG!2. The Past Continuous Tense.As with all continuous tenses, the past continuous gives the idea of activity andduration.Organized by Group 3 Page 2
  3. 3. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung SreypeuvThe past continuous is used:a) To describe the situation in which the events of the narrative occurred.E.g.When I woke up at 8am (1) the sun was shining (2) and the birds were singing (2). Ihad a shower (3), ate some breakfast (4) and left for work at 9am. (5)b) To express an activity in progress at a time in the pastEx: What were you doing (1) when I phoned (2) you?NOTE! The past continuous is the most common tense after while in questions andstatements.The past continuous also expresses the idea of:An interrupted activity:E.g. She was cooking dinner when the door bell rang.An unfinished activity:E.g. I was reading the book you lent me.Organized by Group 3 Page 3
  4. 4. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung SreypeuvA repeated action:E.g. They were shooting at the enemy.A temporary situation:E.g. He was standing on the corner waiting for a bus.NOTE! The past continuous can also be used as future in the past. This will beexplained later.3. The Past Perfect Simple Tense.The past perfect simple is useda) To show that an action or situation happened BEFORE the events in the narrative described in the simple past.E.g.When I woke up at 8am (1), the sun was shining and the birds were singing. I hadslept (2) really well the night before. I had a shower (3), ate some breakfast (4) andleft for work at 9am. (5)NOTE! It is bad style to use too many verbs in the past perfect. As soon as it is clearthat the events happened before the time that the narrative is set, use the simple pastand past continuous.E.g. When I woke up at 8am, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. I hadslept really well the night before. I dreamt about the time I spent living in Switzerlandwhen I was a teenager. I had a shower, ate some breakfast and left for work at 9am.NOTE! If the subject of two verbs is the same, you dont have to repeat the hadauxiliary.E.g. When I arrived, hed finished his dinner and left the room.b) Making a narrative more interesting to read.Organized by Group 3 Page 4
  5. 5. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung SreypeuvIt is generally seen as bad literary style to have too many verbs in the same tense. InEnglish it is always best to avoid repetition where possible.Look again at the example used to illustrate the past simple tense.This same sentence could be improved for dramatic effect by using the past perfectsimple.E.g. I woke up at 8am and left for work after Id had a shower and eaten somebreakfast.CONJUNCTIONS (After, As soon as, Before, By the time, Once, till, When, Unless,Until)With these conjunctions of time, the past perfect shows that the first action MUSTBE COMPLETED before the second action begins, otherwise the past simple isused.E.g. After....she finished, they left / she had finished, they left. (She had to finishfirst) As soon as...we arrived she said "hello". / I had done it, I sent it to her. (I hadto do it first) She wouldnt sign the contract before.... seeing it / she had seen it. (She had tosee it first) They wouldnt go unless....she came with them / they had seen it was safe. (It was important to finish checking that it was safe before going)For more information on conjunctions of time, see the worksheet called: When do Iuse the perfect tenses?4. The Past Perfect Continuous Tense.a) The past perfect continuous is used for longer activities that were happeningcontinuously up until a specified time in the past.E.g.Organized by Group 3 Page 5
  6. 6. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung SreypeuvHe looked very tired (1), he had been working very hard (2) over the past three weeks.As with the past continuous, the past perfect continuous can show the following:Unfinished activityE.g. He hadnt heard the telephone ring because hed been reading.Repeated activityE.g. I was tired. Id been cutting wood all day.With the past perfect simple, the focus is on the completed activity.E.g. Hed read three reports that morningEx: Hed cut a huge pile of wood.5. The Future in the Past.The future in the past is used to look into the future from a point of time in the past.However, this "future" event still occurred at a time before the present time.E.g.I woke up (1) at 8am yesterday. I was meeting my boss (2) at ten oclock thatmorning, so I wouldnt be able to have lunch (3) with Susan. I wasnt going to gethome (4) again until late that night.Depending on the situation, the following tenses are used in the future in the past:The past simple (a timetabled event)The past continuous (arrangement)Would (a prediction)Was going to (a plan)Would be doing (an action at a specific time)Would have done (action completed before a specified time)Organized by Group 3 Page 6
  7. 7. Western University Core-EnglishDepartment of English Lecturer: Ung Sreypeuv References  by Viv Quarry (  Oxford Practice Grammar (John Eastwood)Organized by Group 3 Page 7