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The use of the Past Indefinite

The Past Indefinite denotes an action performed within a period of time which is already over. The action is cut off from the present. The time of the action may be indicated by adverbials of past time, such as yesterday, a week ago, last year, etc.

The sun came outa moment ago.

Miss Helstone stayedthe whole evening. (Ch. Bronte)

Ellean breakfastedtwo hours ago, and then went out walking with the dog.


The Past Indefinite can correspond to the Russian past perfective and past imperfective (совершенный и несовершенный вид).

Не smokeda cigarette and left the room (выкурил).

He smokedin silence for a few minutes (курил).

The translation depends on the context and the lexical character of the verb.

The Past Indefinite is used to denote:

(a) an action performed in the past.

We enteredFarmer Ridley’s meadow in silence. (Marryat)

(b) a succession of past actions.

In this case the Past Indefinite is rendered in Russian by the past perfective.

He threw downhis spade and enteredthe house. (Ch. Bronte)

Он бросил лопату и вошел в дом.

(c) repeated actions in the past.

In this case the Past Indefinite is rendered in Russian by the past imperfective.

He madean entry in his diary every night. (Bennett)

Каждый вечер он делал запись в дневнике.

N o t e. — Repeated actions are often expressed by used to +Infinitive and would +Infinitive. Used to is more colloquial and would is more literary.

Every afternoon, when the children came from school, they used to go and

play in the Giant’s garden. (Wilde)

When fits of melancholy came upon him, he would spendall days locked in

his room. (E. Bronte)

Sometimes used to does not denote repeated actions, but actions characterizing a person or actions or states which lasted a long time.

The Reed used to likethe rain. (Wilde)

There used to bean old oak-tree near the house.


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