Hello boys and girls! How are you? It´s time for grammar and today we´re going to talk about Narrative tenses. When telling a story, what kind of verbal tenses should you use? For example, what verbal tense do you normally use to ‘set a scene’? And to describe a longer, continuous past action? If you have some doubts when writing a story, you must read this post. Go on!

To start with, narrative tenses are those tenses that you use when you have to talk about a past event (a story, an experience…) There are four main tenses. They are: past simple (the most common), past continuous, past perfect and past perfect continuous. All of them can help you to express your ideas more effectively.

Go on and find out how.


*You use the past simple to talk about the main events in a story, and to talk about consecutive actions in the past.

*Example 1: Mike got up and left the room. (First he got up and then he left the room).

*Example 2: I didn´t like the synopsis so I didn´t buy the book.

*Example 3: My mum picked up the phone and asked for a taxi.


*You use the past continuous to describe a longer, continuous past action. This is often an action which was in progress when another action happened. So, it´s often interrupted by another event (past simple).

*This tense is often used to set the scene at the beginning of a story.

*Example 1: When I woke up that morning it was snowing and my husband was already having breakfast.

*Example 2: While I was trying to do my homework, my little brothers started fighting.

*Example 3: Sarah was talking to his boyfriend when the waitress brought the bill.


*You use the past perfect to talk about an action which happened before the specific time in the past when the main events of the story happened.

*The actions are often mentioned out of time sequence and the past perfect makes the order clear.

*Had is often contracted to ‘d.

*Example 1: When Miranda arrived at the station, the bus had left. (First the bus left. Then, Miranda arrived at the station).

*Example 2: The bank cashier didn´t realize that she hadn´t locked the door.

*Example 3: I´d been waiting for an hour. My husband had promised to be be here at about eleven.


*You use the past perfect continuous to talk about a longer continuous action that was going on before the specific time in the past when the main events of the story happened.

*Example 1: I was exhausted because I´d been studying all day.

*Example 2: My wife went to the doctor because she hadn´t been feeling well.

*Example 3: Robert had been studying all the afternoon when he found out that the exam was cancelled.


The Meeting

It was ten o´clock in the morning and Natasha was sitting in a burguer bar waiting for Jack to arrive. She was exhausted, because she had been travelling all night. She was feeling anxious too. She wasn´t sure if she would recognize him after all this time. It was difficult to believe but they hadn´t seen each other for eight years now. She wondered if Jack had changed much. Eight years ago he had been nice, but not very handsome. 

Natasha looked at her watch again. She´d been waiting for more than an hour. He had promised to be there at about half past eight but he had never been a very punctual person. She ordered a glass of milkshake. Suddenly, she saw him. He was wearing a suit and a tie and was looking round the other tables, obviously looking for her. She stood up and walked towards him. ‘You look fantasticc, Dad’, she said.

And that is all for today. Do you have any doubts? If so, leave us a comment. Once more, thank you for visiting our blog!

Sources: New English File, Intermidiate Plus Student´s Book OXFORD, Gateaway 2nd Edition B1, Macmillan Education.