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RayevskaNM-Modern English Grammar.doc
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The past tense

The grammatical content of the Past Indefinite may be briefly characterised as follows: the Past Indefinite represents an action or state as relatively static in the past. The duration of the process indicated by the Past Indefinite can vary according to the immediate lexical context or special situation with no time indicators at all.

The Past Indefinite Tense refers an action to the past without telling anything about the connection with the present moment. It is primarily the tense of narration. It may denote:

1) a succession of actions in the past, e. g.:

I went up and had a bath, and dressed, and stood at my window, listening to the drone of a tractor still cutting corn, and getting a little drunk of whiffs from the honeysuckle. (Galsworthy)

2) simultaneity in action, e. g.:

When it gave you the spirit, distilled the essence, it didn't see real; and when it gave you the gross, cross-currented, contradictory surface, it didn't seem worth while (Galsworthy). He paid no attention when the young man raised his hat. (Galsworthy)

3) a special use of the Past Tense is presented by patterns like the following:

After he left the house, he recollected that he had not locked the door. That happened before I met you.

The opposition between perfect verb forms and the past tense forms occurring in such clauses is neutralised. The function of signalling "earlier time" is taken over by the words after and before.

4) repeated actions in the past. (Here belong also patterns with the Past Indefinite used to denote a permanent characteristic of a person or thing spoken about).


  1. the Past Tense is fairly common in denoting abilities, properties or habitual actions represented in speech situation as relatively static, e. g.: She played tennis with innate grace.

  2. past actions logically connected with the present in patterns with adverbs of frequency and repetition: never, ever, always, seldom and before. The grammatical content of the Past Tense in such cases goes parallel with the Present Perfect as its stylistic synonym with a subjective element in it, e. g.: "I am a doctor, you know.Really? You never told me". "I don't want to argue. French and English never did get on, and never will". (Galsworthy)

It is important to remember that the adverb never in patterns with the Past Tense is often used rather to intensify negation than in the meaning of "not ever" at "no time", e. g.:

He answered never a word — Він так й не відповів нічого.

Bill never turned his head (London)— Біл так і не обернувся.

"So you've come back", he repeated. She never looked up, and never spoke, the firelight playing over her motionless figure. (Galsworthy) —... Ірен не глянула на нього, не сказала ні слова...

The use of the Past Tense in patterns like "Did you ever?" or "Did you ever hear of such a thing?" is virtually synonymous with "Have you ever heard of such a thing?" The two structures differ only in style, the former as highly expressive is generally used merely as emotional exclamation in expressive language.

  1. the Past Tense is common in narration to indicate anteriority, e. g.: He thought he had lost her, then almost ran into her standing quite stilt. (Galsworthy)

  2. there are also cases when the Past Tense is used for stylistic purposes to denote that what has hitherto been true is so still and will always remain so. Familiar examples quoted by O. Jespersen are:

Men were deceivers ever. (Shakespeare) Faint heart never won fair lady.

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