Exercise on Narrating Things Happening Over Time

Man sitting on sofa reading book
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Narrative paragraphs are often used to describe what a person does over a period of time. Read this example narrative paragraph, notice how words like 'later' are used to connect what happens.

Yesterday evening I got home from work at 6 o'clock. My wife had prepared dinner which we ate immediately. After I had cleaned up the kitchen, we watched TV for about an hour. Then we got ready to go out with some friends. Our friends arrived at about 9 o'clock and we chatted for a while. Later we decided to visit a jazz club and listen to some music. While we were eating, an old friend dropped in and we all caught up. After we had been chatting for about half an hour, I noticed that time! We really enjoyed ourselves and stayed late. We finally left at one o'clock in the morning.

Tips on Tenses

Simple past for succession of events:

  • Narrate with the simple past tense when events follow each other. here are some examples. Notice that each event occurs in succession.

I got up and went to the kitchen. I opened the door and looked into the fridge.
She arrived in Dallas, took a cab, and checked in to her hotel. Next, she had some dinner in a restaurant. Finally, she visited a colleague before she went to bed.

Past continuous for interrupted actions:

  • To express that an action is interrupted, use the past continuous to describe what was happening when there was an interruption. Use the past simple with the action that interrupts what was happening.

Finally, as we were discussing the issue, the teacher walked into the classroom. Obviously, we stopped talking immediately.
Sharon was working in the garden when the telephone rang.

Past perfect for previous actions:

  • To express something that was finished before another event in the past, use the past perfect. This is especially useful when providing an explanation for what happened.

    We decided to go out and celebrate because we had just finished remodeling our home.
    Janet didn't join us for dinner as she had already eaten.

    Past perfect continuous for length of actions:

    • The past perfect continuous is used to express how long something had been happening up to a point of time in the past.

      We had been hiking for more than ten hours and it was time to call it a day.
      She had been nagging him for months to get a better job when he finally was hired.

      Linking Language

      Starting sentences with a time expression

      • Start sentences with linking phrases such as 'Then,' 'Next,' 'Finally,' 'Before that', etc. to connect sentences and show time relationships in your narrative writing. 

      First, we flew to New York on our great adventure. After New York, we moved on to Philadelphia. Then, it was on to Florida for some scuba diving.
      After breakfast, I spent a few hours reading the newspaper. Next, I played softball with my son. 

      Use time clauses to show relationships in time. 

      • Use 'before', 'after', 'as soon as', etc. to introduce a time clause. Pay special attention to the use of tenses with time clauses. Begin a sentence with a time clause, but use a comma before the main clause. OR Begin with the main clause and end with the time clause using no comma.

      After we had finished our homework, we watched a funny movie.
      They attended a meeting as soon as they arrived in Chicago. 

      Written Exercise - Using Past Verbs and Prepositions

      Write out the following sentences on to a piece of paper to form a paragraph based on the narrative paragraph above.

      Conjugate each verb in the past and provide the correct prepositions. Click on the arrow to check your answers.

      • Yesterday evening Jack _____ (get) home _____ (preposition) half past five.
      • He immediately _____ (make) himself a cup _____ (preposition) coffee and _____ (sit down) to read a book.
      • He _____ (read) the book _____ (preposition) half past seven.
      • Then, he _____ (make) dinner and _____ (get ready) to go out with his friends.
      • When his friends _____ (arrive), they _____ (decide) to go out to see a film.
      • He _____ (stay out) until midnight with his friends.
      • Finally, he _____ (fall) asleep _____ (preposition) about one o'clock.

      Written Exercise II

      Now that you have a good feeling for the form of a narrative paragraph. Fill in the gaps in this paragraph with information about what you did yesterday evening.

      Yesterday evening ______________ at ________ o'clock. I immediately ______________. After ______________, I (or we) ________________. Then I (or we) __________________________. I (or we) _________________a while. Later I (or we) _______________________________. I (or we) finally _______________.

      Continue practicing narrative paragraphs by writing a number of similar paragraphs about what you did last weekend, on your last holiday, etc. Pay special attention to how you use different past tenses to narrate what happened.