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Narrative tenses

 
 
 

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: 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
Eslreading.org
Site with small number of good, short (6 - 10 page) simplified versions of classic stories, mostly for reading online, some for download
audio
American Stories for English Learners
Fifty-seven 15-minute mp3 files with text, read at medium-slow speed.
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
Embarrassment
Vox pops: What is your most embarrassing moment?

ESL lesson plans

Politics and the US Election

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

Gender discrimination at work

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

English grammar notes

Comparison with as...as

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