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THE PAST SIMPLE (INDEFINITE)
AND THE PAST CONTINUOUS (PROGRESSIVE) TENSE-FORMS
A. The Past Simple (Indefinite) Tense
The Past Simple is formed by adding -ed to the stem for regular verbs and by changing the root vowel or in some other ways for irregular verbs which need to be memorized. The form of the Past Simple is the same for all persons.
didn't = did not
When -ed is added there are sometimes changes in spelling, e.g. stop - stopped, study - studied. The ending -ed has variants of pronunciation depending on the type of a preceding sound:
The Past Simple tense denotes:
1. A single action or a state. The reference of the action to the past is typically indicated by time adverbials such as ago, last year (week, month), yesterday, the other day, in 1997, last (time), for five years, for a week, etc.
Ann spent a lot of money on books yesterday. It didn't rain last night.
When did you go to the cinema last?
She started learning the piano at the age of five.
I baked the cake for 30 minutes.
Note that when an adverbial denoting a period of time (for five years, for a fen- minutes, etc) is used with the Past Simple emphasis is placed on the reference of the fact to the past, not on the duration of the activity.
They lived in Brest for five years before the war.
2. A succession of single past actions.
/ entered the office, looked around and came up to
Habitual past actions or states.
I often went cycling last summer.
When it is desired to emphasize a contrast between the past and the present the construction used to + Infinitive* is preferable.
He used to smoke forty cigarettes a day till he
finally gave up smoking.
Do you play golf? - No, but I used to when I lived
in the country.
She used to be such a happy lively girl (but no longer now).
The construction would + Infinitive is also used to describe repeated past actions (but not states). It is more common for written language and often occurs in reminiscences.
* Note the difference in meaning between 'used to do smth' and be (get) used to smth or doing smth', e.g. We used to go to the cinema a lot but we never get the time now. It's hard to understand Scottish people if you're not used to their accent. I'm not used to walking long distances.
When we worked in the same office, we would have coffee together.
4. Reported present time actions after the reporting verbs like say, tell, ask, wonder, etc in the Past Simple (according to the rules of Sequence of Tenses).
B. The Past Continuous (Progressive) Tense
The Past Continuous tense is formed with the help of the auxiliary was/were and the Present Participle of the main
wasn't = was not weren't = were not
The Past Continuous (Progressive) tense denotes:
1. An action in progress at a definite moment* or at a definite period of time in the past indicated normally by adverbial modifiers such as at 5 p.m., at that time yesterday, from 2 to 3, between three and four, all the morning, the whole day, etc.
At one o'clock she was having lunch.
What were you doing yesterday at seven p.m.?
It was raining the whole morning.
The moment in the past can also be expressed by the context or by an adverbial clause of time.
I looked out of the window. The sun was shining
and the birds were singing.
When I came in he was lying in bed.
Obviously, the action of the subordinate clause of time in such cases is simultaneous with that of the principal clause. However, the two actions are not always identical in character. One can be an action in progress (i.e. a long action) while the other may be an event (i.e. a short action) which 'interrupts' the activity going on at the given past moment.
We were going down in the lift when it suddenly stopped.
* Similar to the meaning of 'now' in the Present Continuous tense, the definite moment in the past may actually mean both at and around a particular moment in the past. The meaning of the Past Continuous in the latter case is that of a temporary past activity contrasted to a permanent past activity expressed by the Past Simple Tense.
// happened while I was living in Bristol. They lived in London all their life.
There can be situations with two parallel past actions in progress, which are both expressed by the Past Continuous or by the Past Simple tenses, or there may be a combination of the Past Continuous and the Past Simple. The two simultaneous actions in progress are normally linked by 'while'.
Jane was cooking while I was laying the table. While we were packing (packed) the suitcases, Bill was talking (talked) to the travel agent.
Note that when the two actions are not simultaneous, i.e.
when one action happened after the other, the Past Simple
is used for both the verbs.
When Brenda arrived I was telephoning Jim. (She arrived during my telephone call.) Wlien Brenda arrived I telephoned Jim. (I telephoned after her arrival.)
2. A past action of unusual frequency to convey a feeling of annoyance or irritation with adverbials of frequency like always, constantly (compare with a similar use of the Present Continuous).
When he studied at school he was always making trouble.
3. Present time actions in progress in reported speech after the reporting verbs like say, tell, ask, wonder, etc in the Past Simple (according to the rules of Sequence of Tenses).
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