Finished and Unfinished Past Time In English Verb Tenses | DailyStep English

Finished and Unfinished Past Time In English Verb Tenses

 What is the difference between Finished Past Time and Unfinished Past Time In English? And why should you care?

Finished and Unfinished Past  Hello, I'm Jane at DailyStep English, and this is an important topic to learn if you want to use English verbs correctly.

Many languages do not have the concept of Finished and Unfinished Time, which is one reason that many people make mistakes with English verbs.

So I want to make sure you understand this very important grammar concept so you can avoid mistakes with Past and Perfect English verb tenses. 

How to use this page:  
1. Take the first quiz, QUIZ 1.
2. Read the free lesson carefully. If possible, read it aloud. 
3. Take QUIZ 2 at the bottom of the page to check your understanding. 

If you are DailyStep English subscriber, please log in to hear and download the lesson. You are welcome to subscribe here if you wish, or you can sign up for a free trial and to join my mailing list.

So, let's start with Quiz 1:



Finished and Unfinished Past Time, and why it is important in English grammar.

By Jane Lawson at DailyStep.com

The difference between Finished Past Time and Unfinished Past Time is easy to understand. But if you don't understand it well, you will make mistakes when you speak English, and you will sometimes misunderstand English speakers. This is one reason why it surprises me when I hear some English teachers say that learning grammar is not important. If your teacher tells you that, then it's time to get a new teacher.


So, this is the concept, and it's simple:

Finished Past Time is not connected to now

Unfinished Past Time is connected to now

 

For example: 

Yesterday is finished
Today is unfinished

Last year is finished
This year is unfinished

 

And why is this important?

Some verb tenses are ONLY EVER used for Finished Past, and other verb tenses are ONLY EVER used for Unfinished Past.

Verb Tenses for FINISHED PAST are:

Past Simple   (I did)
Past Continuous  (I was doing)
Past Perfect Simple (I had done)
Past Perfect Continuous   (I had been doing)

 

Verb Tenses for UNFINISHED PAST are:

Present Perfect Simple (I have done)
Present Perfect Continuous (I have been doing)


You can learn how to use all these verb tenses in my free DailyStep English Verb Tenses Series. So far, I have covered the Present Simple and the Present Continuous. I will cover all the Verb Tenses in the coming weeks. But today, I just want to be sure that you understand the concept of Finished and Unfinished Past Time.

Notice how the names Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous, both contain the word Present. This is because of their connection to NOW. And if something is Perfect, then it is complete, or in other words it is Past.

So, Present Perfect actually means Present Past. It means, Past connected to Present, in other words, something that started in the Past and continues into the Present.


It is always incorrect to say
I have done it yesterday. 

because "yesterday" is finished.

You need to say
I did it yesterday.


This is an easy distinction. We always know that yesterday is finished. But sometimes, parts of today can also be finished. For example, if we are asking about a particular time, we use the Finished Past tenses.

Look at this dialogue:

Have you sent it yet?
Yes, I have.
When did you send it?
I sent it today.
What time did you send it?
I sent it at 9 a.m.
That’s good. I’m glad you have sent it. I wonder if he has received it yet?

Notice how, in the first and last sentences in this dialogue, the Present Perfect is used, because the speaker is referring to whether it has been sent or received at any time before now.

But in the other sentences, the speaker asks WHEN and asks about a specific time. So the Past Simple is used because he is asking about a time that is finished. The answer ‘I sent it today’ uses the same Finished Past verb tense that is used in the question.

 

Sometimes, the choice of verb tense can change the meaning of a sentence. If I say:

He has written many books during his time in London.

or 

He wrote many books during his time in London.

the only difference between these 2 sentences is that the verb in the first sentence is in the Present Perfect Simple, so the time is Unfinished. The verb in the second sentence is in the Past Simple, so the time is finished. 

So, in the first sentence, we know that he is still in London, and in the second sentence, he is no longer in London.

 
Here is a table of time references showing Finished and Unfinished Past Time.

At the bottom of the table, very important, you’ll find time references where you need to know the context in order to choose your verb tense. These are the kinds of time references where you can easily misunderstand English or give the wrong meaning when you speak.

Please study this table carefully then do Quiz 2 to check your understanding!

 

Finished Time

Unfinished Time

last week

this week

last year

this year

earlier this year

since earlier last year

two minutes ago

in the last two minutes

one second ago

since two minutes ago

before cars were invented

in the period since cars were invented

yesterday

today

earlier today

since this morning

on 15 May

since 15 May

in the previous six months

in the last six months

in my childhood

recently

in my teens

lately

in William Shakespeare's life

in my life

at midnight

since midnight

             

Sometimes, we need to know the context before we can know if it is Finished or Unfinished Past Time.
Take a look at these examples:

 

Finished Time

Unfinished Time

for 3 years (but not any more)

for 3 years (and still continuing)

this morning (it is now after midday. The morning is finished)

this morning (it is before midday. The morning is not finished)

during his life (he is dead)

during his life (he is alive)

In August this year (August is in the past)

in August this year (it is still August now)

 

So, I hope you now have a clear understanding of the difference between Finished and Unfinished Past Time, and also why it is important to know this topic. If you would like to hear and download this lesson, please subscribe to DailyStep English here.

Now, please take this FREE QUIZ to test your understanding of this lesson.

 If you like this lesson, please share it. Thank you :)

 

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Finished and Unfinished Past Time