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Just like the present tenses, there are four aspects of the past tense: simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous. The rules for forming each tense aspect follow a similar pattern as the present tenses aspects do. The past continuous form contains the verb 'to be' plus the -ing form of the verb. The past perfect form features the verb 'to have' plus the past participle. And lastly the perfect continuous shows the same 'to have', the verb 'been', and the -ing form of the verb like its present counterpart. Students should learn the basic patterns for these tenses as the forms of the verbs 'to be' and 'to have' usually indicate which specific tense is being used.
The past simple affirmative is formed by simply adding -ed or -d to the verb. In its negative or question form we see the verb 'to do' in the form 'did not' (or didn't as a contraction) and 'did'. This tense is used when the time is given, when the time is asked about, when it is clear an action took place at a specific time, or when a present perfect question and answer makes a time reference specific.
In the past continuous the verb 'to be' comes in the form was or were depending on the spoken point of view. Its usages include times when an action was interrupted, when speaking of gradual development, when an action was in progress at a time spoken of, and when using descriptions.
The past perfect and the past past perfect continuous are both used when speaking about two actions that concluded in the past up until the time we are uttering about. In the past perfect the first past action has concluded before or at the same time another past action begins. In the past perfect continuous the first past action is usually to have been a lengthly event that continued up until the second past action we are talking about. This form does not make any indication that the action continued during or after the second past action started.