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the difference between past tense and past perfect tense

Today, I’d like to explain something which is very confusing for many students: when to use the past perfect tense (had/hadn’t + pp). Generally, we use this in sentences which have more than one verb and one of the actions happened before the other one. I know this is probably still confusing, so let me give you some example sentences.

I have worked at ABC Company for ten years.

I worked at XYZ Company for fifteen years.

I had worked at XYZ Company for fifteen years before I came to ABC Company.

In the second sentence, we have to use the simple past tense because there’s only one verb and it’s describing a completed action. In the third sentence, we must change it to the past perfect (had worked) because of the presence of the verb “came” in the sentence. The action of working at XYZ Company happened before coming to ABC Company, and there’s a direct connection between them, so we use the past perfect tense.

It’s important to emphasize the fact that there must be a direct relationship between the two actions in order to use the past perfect tense. If there’s not a direct relationship  between them, both verbs will use the simple past tense. For example:

I studied at the library before I came home.

I watched TV after I finished my homework.

In these cases, there’s no direct connection between studying at the library and coming home or watching TV and finishing the homework; they simply happen before or after each other.

However, if we can establish a direct connection, then we can use the past perfect tense. For example:

My teacher had given me a lot of homework, so I studied at the library all day.

I bought a new computer yesterday because I had wanted one for a long time.

In these cases, the words “so” and ” because” establish a direct connection between the two ideas, so the one that happened first must be in the past perfect tense.

appropriate responses


Today, I’d like to do something a little different. Many of my students don’t know how to respond to different statements or questions in natural English, so I’m going to tell you how to do that today. For example:

Positive situations

A: I just got a promotion at work!

B: Wow, that’s great! Congratulations!


A: Yesterday was my birthday.

B: Oh really? I didn’t know. Happy birthday!


A: I’m going on a trip to Spain for my vacation.

B: That’s wonderful!


A: I really like your shoes.

B: Thank you very much. I just bought them.

Negative situations

A: I have to work all weekend.

B: Oh really? That’s too bad.


A: I’m sorry I’m late.

B: It’s ok.


A: My grandfather died last week.

B: Oh I’m so sorry!


A: I can’t come to your party on Saturday.

B: I’m sorry to hear that. I really wanted you to come.

Neutral situations

A: I work for one of the largest banks in Japan.

B: Oh really? Which one do you work for?


A: I really like sushi.

B: So do I. It’s one of my favorite foods.


A: I can’t cook very well.

B: Oh really? I can. People tell me I’m very good at it.


A: I’m not from Tokyo originally. My hometown is Sapporo.

B: Oh I see. When did you come to Tokyo?


A: Do you have any questions?

B: No, I’m ok.

Responding to offers

A: Would you like some cheese?

B: No I’m ok, thanks.   or   No, thank you.


A: Can I get you something to drink?

B: Ok. I’d like a beer, please.    or    Yes, please. I’d like a beer.


A: May I help you?

B: Yes, I’m looking for some jeans.


A: May I help you?

B: No thanks. I’m just looking.

Responding to invitations

A: Would you like to see a movie with me tomorrow night?

B: Sure, I’d love to!


A: Would you like to have dinner together on Saturday night?

B: I’d love to, but I’m afraid I have other plans.


A: How about going to a baseball game on Sunday?

B: Sure. Sounds good.

So these are some basic ways to respond in natural English. Please be careful when using “ok”. As you can see above in the examples about responding to offers, if you say “ok” to an offer, it means yes. However, if you say “I’m ok” or “It’s ok” to an offer, it means no.  Also if someone asks you “Do you have any questions?”, you can never say “ok” because it doesn’t make sense. You must either say “Yes” or “No”, and it’s very common to say “No, I’m ok” or “No, it’s ok”.

In addition, please note that in regular conversations the response “I see” should be followed by a statement or a question. If you simply say “I see” and then nothing after that, it could kill the conversation.

This is English Help Online’s first blog entry. February 10, 2010


Hello. My name is Mike, and I’m an English teacher in Tokyo. I have been teaching English for about 12 years in Asia (Japan and Korea). I really enjoy my work because I truly enjoy languages. I have studied French and a little Korean. I’m now studying Japanese and feel like I’ve been making a lot of progress lately. I would like to help other people who are studying English find ways to improve their language skills. Basically, I feel it’s very important to focus on full sentences rather than individual words when you study a language. Most of my students don’t do this, and this is the main reason why they have trouble improving their skills. So, what I do when I study Japanese is: First,  I read a sentence completely. Then, I cover it with my hand and try to repeat it from my memory. Usually I can’t do it and I forget, so then I read the sentence again and try one more time. After about three or four times, I can do it, depending on how long the sentence is. Finally, I take the same sentence and change it, but just a little bit. If you change only one or two details, the main natural structure of the sentence will stay the same.

So to give you an example of how to do this in English. Read the following sentence:

I went to the park because I wanted to go jogging.

After you memorize this sentence, you can change the parts which are in black italics. So for example:

I went to the supermarket because I wanted to buy some milk.

My sister went to the music store because she wanted to buy a CD.

My friend went home because he wanted to get some rest.

You can also use this for sentences which are much more complex and for high level speakers. This is a good way to study idioms. For example:

My boss andI don’t see eye to eye about where to open the new branch.

The idiom, to not see eye to eye, means to not agree. So this sentence means that my boss and I don’t agree about where to open the new branch.

Possible changed variations of this idiom are:

My wife and I don’t see eye to eye about where to move.

My friends and I didn’t see eye to eye about where to have dinner last night.

The president and vice president of the company don’t see eye to eye about how many people to hire.

So this is the technique I use, and I find it’s very effective. I’ve been able to really improve my Japanese in less than a year. I hope people will find it useful and interesting.

In future blog entries, I would like to teach various English expressions such as idioms and phrasal verbs. These are very important in our language. I hope you will continue to read my blog. Thank you.

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