English speaking tips: how to talk about your past

Use these tips to help you speak about your past in English.

Born

Remember to use the past form of the verb "to be" with "born":

I was born
You were born
He was born
We were born
They were born

Examples

I was born … (in 1990)
He was born … (twenty five years ago)
They were born … (in London / in hospital / at home)

Time expressions

For the first ten years of my life, we lived in a small flat. Then we moved to…

I started school at the age of 5. In total, I attended school for 12 years.

In 2006 I got my first job.

Emotions, feelings and states

Use the verb "to be" to talk about emotions in the past.

"We were poor, but happy."

You can also use "feel" ("felt" in the past tense) but this is less common.

"When there was no news from their son they felt worried."
"They were worried when there was no news from their son."

Use "was" or "were" to talk about jobs.
"My mother was a nurse."

You can also use "worked as a / an":
"My mother worked as a nurse."

To talk about how many or how much of something, use "there was" or "there were".

"There were three of us at the beginning."
"In my family there were three of us."

"There wasn't much money when I was a child."

Difficult verbs

Be careful how you use these:

to start
You only start something once.

"I started my job in 2010."
"I started my job three years ago."
(Not "I started my job for three years ago.")

to meet
You meet someone on a single or repeated occasion. It doesn't mean "to know" (see below).

"I met him at a party."
"I met him in 2001 and then again in 2005."

to know
To know someone or something is a state – not an event.

When I was a child, I didn't know anything about politics.
I knew lots of interesting people when I lived in London.

(Not "I knew him at a party" – see above).

Use simple connectors to tell a story

and = adds an idea

"I got up early and made breakfast for my family."

but = gives a contrast

"She came from a rich family but she was unhappy."

so = gives a result

"There was nobody at the party so I went home."

(When you write English, you don't need a comma before and, but or so if both parts of the sentence are short.)

because = gives a reason

"We moved in 2008 because my father got a new job."

"Because" can go at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence.
"Because my father got a new job in 2008, we moved."

then = explains what happened next

"We moved house in 2008, then I changed school."

after = says what happened in a time following an event, or as a result of something else

After the party, the house was very untidy.
The house was very untidy after the party.

After she got married, she lived in France.

See Telling a story in English for more connecting words.


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