grammar  >  narrative tenses

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