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Narrative tenses

 
 
 

Grammatical form

Subject + past tense
He went to the station.
Subject + be (past) + verb -ing
He was going to the station.
Subject + had + past participle
He had gone to the station.
Subject + had + been + verb -ing
He had been going to the station.
 
 

What are narrative tenses?

Narrative tenses are the tenses that we use to talk about past events and to tell stories.

The most common of these is the past simple. Three other tenses, past continuous, the past perfect simple and the past perfect continuous can help us to say what we want more effeciently. However, it should be remembered that almost any story can be told using the past simple.

It is often useful to look at these tenses together within the context of the function narrating, i.e. relating past events.
 

Written example of narrative tenses in use

Bond opened the door very slowly, looked carefully around the room and walked in. The window was open and the curtains were blowing in the wind. Clearly someone had left in a hurry.

Past simple
opened, looked, walked, was

Past continuous
were blowing

Past perfect
had left
 

Spoken example of narrative tenses in use

A: I saw a UFO once. Well, I think it was one.
B: Oh yeah?
A: Yeah, really. I was in the country - in Yorkshire - on the moors...
B: What were you doing up there?
A: Oh, I was visiting some friends. They'd rented a cottage and we'd gone up to stay with them.

Past simple
saw, was

Past continuous
(What) were (you) doing? was visiting

Past perfect
they'd rented, we'd gone
ESL quizzes for Narrative tenses
gap fill
Narrative tenses news story
Complete the news story by putting the verbs in the correct tense.
Narrative tenses - anecdote
Complete the anecdote about an incident on a plane by putting the verbs in the correct tense.
Narrative tenses - James Bond
Adaptation of a short passage from Diamonds are Forever
Pakistan - China by bicycle
15 gap text: past simple, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous.
Past simple and continuous - anecdote - the Donkey Dog
Short anecdote about a frightening experience gapped for past continuous and past simple plus 'enormous' and 'the biggest'
quiz
Narrative tenses quiz: a spooky experience
Ten mulitple-choice questions that relate a short spooky experience.

Related ESL material
matching
Time linkers exercise 01
Matching setence segments with 'while', 'as soon as', 'by the time', 'until' and 'during'
quiz
Time phrases quiz 01
Mulitple-choice quiz with feedback. 'When', 'while', 'as', 'before', 'after', 'during', 'as soon as', 'by the time'
gap fill
Past simple and continuous - anecdote - the Donkey Dog
Short anecdote about a frightening experience gapped for past continuous and past simple plus 'enormous' and 'the biggest'
gap fill
Past simple and continuous - anecdote - the Donkey Dog
Short anecdote about a frightening experience gapped for past continuous and past simple plus 'enormous' and 'the biggest'
reading
audio
gap fill
Past simple and continuous - anecdote - the Donkey Dog
Short anecdote about a frightening experience gapped for past continuous and past simple plus 'enormous' and 'the biggest'
audio

ESL lesson plans

How Donald Trump got rich: a tale of three Trumps

US Election ESL worksheet 1 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 2 Donald Trump worksheet 3 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 4 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 5 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 6
B1 / B2 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; role play Vocabulary: business and economics
Download A Tale of Three Trumps for B1/B2 (PDF)
C1 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; Grammar: participle clauses
Download A Tale of Three Trumps for C1 (PDF)
 

US Election Special 2016

US Election ESL worksheet 1 US Election ESL worksheet 2 US Election ESL worksheet 3 US Election ESL worksheet 4
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary: politics, elections; skills: discussing elections and issues.
Download Politics and the US Election (PDF)
 

Wear high heels or go home: gender discrimination at work

Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 1 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 2 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 3
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary work clothes; skills: gender discrimination; grammar: reported speech.
Download Workplace gender discrimination (PDF)
 

English grammar notes

Comparison with as...as

Comprehensive grammar reference notes, illustrated.
Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 1 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 2 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 3
Download English grammar notes: comparison with as...as (PDF)