English as a Second Language/Past events


QUESTION: Please kindly reply to the following(text from English for Starters 12 taking about past events):

"In 1975 my family (1) left England on an aeroplane. Few hours later we (2) arrived in Damascus, Syria. My mother (3) was/had been worried about the plane journey because she ((is)) scared of flying. But there (4) was no turbulence and she (5) slept through the trip.

In Syria my family (6) lived in a lovely apartment, which was (7) provided by my father's new job. My father helped to run an engineering firm that (8) built bridges. We (9) went to an international school and (10) attended school with children from all over the world. At first, it (11) was difficult getting used to being away from home, but we all (12) worked hard to fit in and the locals  (13) were very friendly. 1986, my family and I (14) returned  to England , but I (15) loved/had loved my time in Syria. I (16) had learnt so much about an interesting culture and (17) had made so many friends."

Please note that the tense forms after the numbers are taken from the Key. Could you explain why two forms are possible in (3) and (15). Also, why the past perfect is used in (16) and (17). I think that there is a printing mistake when the writer used the present tense (is) in this story do you agree?

Best regards

ANSWER: Hello Antoine!

Glad to see you are analyzing your text carefully and being inquisitive.  This is a great attitude to have towards learning.

To answer your questions:

There are two possible forms for #3 because both mean that at the point in time that the speaker is talking about, the mother was worried.  The past perfect form (had been worried) simply adds that that state had begun from an earlier point in time, probably quite a bit earlier.  #15 is very similar.  However, colloquially the past simple tense (loved) often is used in the same way that the technically correct past perfect simple tense (had loved) is, so colloquially they mean the same thing.

You are quite right about #16 and #17.  Colloquially, both the past simple tense (learned) and the past perfect simple tense (had learned/learnt) should be correct.

"Is" is correct, but so is "was"!  The only difference being that if the writer uses "is" that means it is still definitely true now, but if the author uses "was", it was only definitely true then, but is not necessarily true now.

"She was scared of flying." = At that point in time, she was scared, but she may or may not be scared of flying any more.

"She is scared of flying." = At that point in time, she was scared and she is also scared of flying now.

Hope that helps!  Take care.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for your useful reply, which I fully understand. But, teacher, the text (story) is all in the past, that is why I find it unusual that the writer uses the present (is scared). I think he should respect the sequence of tenses. What is your comment?

Hi Antoine!

Very interesting critique!  I would have to say that, as a technical writer or teacher, that I agree with you: English speakers and writers ought to, as much as possible, make all their verb tenses agree, unless there is a very good reason not to.

Having said that, as a native English speaker, I don't think it's such a big deal.  Bear in mind, when I say "as a native English speaker", I mean that in a more informal context, it is fine.  However, in a formal context, I totally agree: it wasn't the best choice.

Take care!

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Brian Connelly


I can answer pretty much any question a student might have about English; about grammar, vocabulary, meanings of words, phrases, expressions or idioms, pronunciation, etc. I can answer questions about how to learn or study English better, how to improve certain aspects of communication (listening, writing, speaking, etc), about why we have certain rules.


I've been teaching English in Japan, mainly as a private (one-to-one) teacher, but also at companies such as Universal Studios or international airports. I have taught professional interpreters and translators and I have also taught students who dropped out of high school and never learned any English. Several years ago I acquired the CELTA and I have been running my own classroom for the past year.

None in particular, but I work with a number of companies who regularly introduce me to new students and occasionally to other companies that are looking for English teachers.


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I currently have approximately 40 individual students with whom I work one on one. I have also worked with local manufacturing companies, colleges, local retailers, as well as Sharp, Universal Studios, Itami International Airport, Kobe International Airport

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