English Grammar - Past Auxiliary Verbs

In English, tenses are formed by conjugating an auxiliary verb plus a standard form of the principal verb (the base form, the gerund form, or the past participle form). It is import to focus on the variations in the auxiliary verb to properly use English tenses. This article provides a quick review of the basic tenses used in English to speak about the past moment in time and events or states which have happened up to a past moment in time.

Symbols Used:

S (subject)
Aux (auxiliary verb)
O (objects)
? (question word, i.e., who, what when, etc.)


In general, using the following patterns to construct sentences in active sentences.

Positive: S + Verb + O
Negative:S + Aux + Verb + O
Question:(?)+ Aux + S + Verb + (O)

Past Simple

Use the past simple when an action is done at a SPECIFIED point in time in the past.

Auxiliary: DID


  • She moved to New York last month.
  • They didn't want to buy a new television last week.
  • Where did you go on vacation last year?

Past Continuous

Use the past continuous for something that is happening at a precise moment in the past. This form is often used to express an interrupted action in progress.

Auxiliary: WAS / WERE


  • I was working on the project when you telephoned.
  • What were you doing when she arrived?
  • They weren't watching the film when you arrived.

Past Perfect

Use the past perfect for an action that finishes before another action in the past.

We often use the past perfect when is giving reasons for a decision made in the past.

Auxiliary: HAD


  • They had invested their money wisely before they bought the new house.
  • She hadn't finished speaking when he rudely interrupted her.
  • Had you checked all your accounts before you made the withdrawal?

    Past Perfect Continuous

    Use the past perfect continuous to express the duration of another activity up to another point in time in the past. This form is often used to stress impatience or importance of the length of time of the previous activity.

    Auxiliary: HAD BEEN


    • We had been waiting for two hours when Jack finally arrived.
    • They hadn't been working long when he telephoned.
    • Had she been telephoning a long time before you arrived?