When can we use the past simple for timeless rules?

past simple timeless rules

When we write a rule in a past tense narrative, should it still be in the present simple tense? This was an excellent question raised by a reader, from a fairly unexpected source – this Christmas reading exercise. It contains the phrase “everyone knew how magical Santa was”. The issue is that saying “was” in the past tense suggests Santa is either no longer magical (or perhaps has died?!). So, how can past simple still be correct here? Like much in English, it depends on our context. Continue reading

Comparing Examples of all the English Tenses

comparing examples of tensesI have had a few requests recently to provide more examples of sentences as they are used across all the English tenses. This is useful to show how and why we might use the different tenses to describe the same situation. One example was given in my timeline (I go school…) and you can go into detail about why we use the different tenses in my book – but for here, let’s just look at 4 different sentences across all 12 aspects of English. Continue reading

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Spot the Mistakes 2 – A Short History of Piers

history of piers exerciseOne of the things Brighton is most famous for, and a common sight in any great English seaside resort, is piers. Following on from my brief tale of Walking on the Beach, then, the subject of piers is a good topic for our next spot the mistake reading exercise. Again, the passage below contains mistakes that focus on the rules of the English tenses and verb use. These are designed to be tricky! Continue reading

Walking on the Beach – Spot the Mistakes 1 (Tenses)

english spot the mistakes beachAn excellent way to test your understanding and boost confidence in learning English is to approach a full text and see if you can spot the mistakes. This is especially challenging if you don’t know where the mistakes are – as to decide if a sentence is incorrect, you need to know what makes a sentence correct! With that in mind, this is the first in a series of reading exercises to practice this skill.

In the following reading exercise, see if you can identify 14 mistakes. The number of mistakes in each paragraph is indicated in brackets. Your only clues is that all the mistakes are something to do with English tenses. The answers are given below. This is a true story about Worthing beach. Continue reading

More On Mixed Tenses – A Comparison Exercise

mixed tenses exerciseThe following quiz was originally posted on Goodreads – it’s a quick exercise to test understanding of different tense forms. The questions are based on the 12 basic English tense forms. Complete the following sentences using the appropriate tense form. In the given context, one answer is correct for each question. Continue reading

What English tenses exercises would YOU like to see?

Since I published The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide, I have been working on an exercise book to accompany it, 101 English Tenses Exercises. Containing no less than 101 exercises to really drill all the rules of the tenses. I need your help, though – my original idea was to exercise each lesson in the book, following a similar structure. It’s the wrong approach, it’s too complicated and simply not fun!

So, if you have a spare few minutes, I’d like to ask for some feedback. What English grammar exercises would you like to see? What are your favourite types of English exercise? Which do you like least?

On my site, I usually post gap fill exercises – either with individual sentences (e.g. this future tenses exercise) or in the form of a reading text (e.g. The Christmas Mess). These would be the bulk of the exercises in the book. Are there other styles you’d prefer to see?

I’m dividing the exercises into grammar themes (e.g. Past Simple or Past Continuous?) and more general themes for mixed tense exercises, which can build specific vocabulary (for example Christmas vocabulary). What topics would you like to see most?

Please comment below or contact me here if you have any thoughts on my upcoming project. After all, above all else I am trying to write something that is both enjoyable and useful to you!

Negative Simple Questions – A Mixed Tenses Exercise

negative simple questions exerciseFollowing on from the quick exercises for negative simple statements, this exercise will test understanding of negative simple question forms. Negative simple questions are formed by placing do, did or will before the subject and not after the subject, or by forming a negative contraction, don’t, didn’t, won’t before the subject. If we’re asking a question of the person who made the statement, any first person statements should be changed to second person (i.e. I -> you, we -> they). The following exercise has 15 negative statements in mixed tenses that can be converted to negative questions. The answers are given below the exercise. Continue reading

Exercise – Forming Simple Tense Questions

simple tense questions exerciseQuestions are formed in the simple tenses by using either do, does, did or will before a bare infinitive, or with the verb to be. The following exercise will help you practice converting simple statements into question form in the past, present and future. Use the example sentences to make questions – while these cover simple tense forms, the sentences are not necessarily easy. And remember, first person questions (I, we) should be converted to the second person (you, they)!

For example:

  • The red bird flew through the trees.
  • Did the red bird fly through the trees?

Continue reading

Ongoing time and the past simple – when a past action is really complete

ongoing time past simpleI was recently contacted with a question about my Mixed Tenses Exercise, which demonstrates that different tenses can fit into the same sentence structure. The question came from the past simple use in the first example, I played tennis every Tuesday this month. In a sentence with an ongoing time, such as this month, it may seem strange to refer to complete action with the past simple. This is a prime example of a situation where the present perfect is appropriate – to show a complete action that has the ability to influence the ongoing time period. So why is the past simple also appropriate? Continue reading