grammar: narrative tenses


About Narrative Tenses

When we are telling the story in the past we can use a variety of narrative tenses.

We use the past simple to talk about the main events of the story: The audience watched the live broadcast in horror.

We use the past continuous to describe other events and actions that were in progress at the time of events: A woman was lying on a surgical table.

We use the past perfect to show that a past action took place before another past action: Frida had finished school and was travelling home when her bus crashed.

                was travelling
               |-------------->|
---------------X---------------X---------------X------>
< ---past      ^               ^               now
       finished school     crashed

Exercises

1 Read the following article, choose the best verb forms to complete the text and the best headline: Artist turns off the tap or Water protest to end.

Artist Mark McGowan (1) said/had said that he (2) was expecting/had expected his exhibition ‘The running tap’ at the House Gallery in south-east London, to close in the next few days.

The exhibition (3) started/was starting one month ago when Mark (4) opened/was opening a tap in the kitchen area of the gallery and (5) left/had left it running. McGowan (6) intended/had intended to leave the tap running for a year, but after receiving a letter from the Times Water Authority, the gallery owners (7) were thinking/had thought about shutting the exhibition down. The exhibition (8) was waiting/has wasted over 700 litres of water every hour, and over half a million litres (9) were already/had already been used.

McGowan (10) was designing/had designed his artwork to draw attention to the way that people waste water.

The headline I think it is: Artist turns off the tap.

2 Put the verb in brackets into the past simple, past continuous or past perfect. Sometimes more than one tense is possible.

I (1) ____was walking____ (walk) home yesterday when I (2) ____saw____ (see) a group of people in front of the church. They (3) ____were laughing____ (laugh) and one man with a video camera (4) ____was filming____ (film) something, so I (5) ____went____ (go) to have a closer look. Three people (6) ____were holding____ (hold) long sticks and they seemed to be attacking a traffic warden!

The man with the video camera (7) ____noticed____ (notice) the look of horror on my face. He (8) ____came____ (come) over to me and (9) ____explained____ (explain) that it was a piece of performance art. The traffic warden was really an artist called Mark McGowan, who (10) ____had dressed____ (dress) up in a warden’s uniform. He (11) ____had advertised____ (advertise) the event on a website, inviting people to come along and hit him with wooden sticks.

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