Time expressions in English

There are many words and expressions to refer to time. You can use these to sequence events and to make stories and anecdotes more interesting.

The present – permanent

Use the present simple tense to refer to permanent situations in the present.

I now live in a small town.
Nowadays I live in a small town.
These days, I don’t have much of a social life.

The present – temporary

Use the present continuous tense to refer to temporary situations in the present.

At present / At the moment I’m living in a small town.
For the time being I’m living in a small town, but I hope to move soon.

Talking about a period of time in the past

My mother started work as a nurse in the 1960s.
In those days she lived in London.
Back then nurses were badly paid.
At that time, nurses lived in special accommodation.

Talking about a single event in the past

At one time she lost her door key and had to stay in a hotel.
On one occasion she nursed the son of a famous politician.

Sequencing events in the past

There are many ways to sequence events in the past. Here are some of the more common ones.

After (in the middle of a sentence)
Afterwards / After that / After a while (at the beginning of a sentence)
Then / Before (in the middle or at the beginning of a sentence)
Before that / Previously / Until then (At the beginning of a sentence)
By the time (in the middle of a sentence followed by a past perfect tense)
By then / by that time (at the beginning of a sentence)

I went shopping after I finished work.
I worked all day in the office. Afterwards / After that, I went shopping.
I went shopping. After a while, I got bored.
I worked before I went shopping.
I went shopping at 6pm. Before that / Previously / Until then I had worked all day in the office.
I worked all day, then I went shopping.
I was desperate to go shopping by the time I had finished work.
I worked until 6pm. By then / By that time, I was glad for the opportunity to go shopping.

Other expressions to refer to the next event in a story

Later on
Before long
At that moment / Suddenly
At the same time
Simultaneously (a more formal way of saying meanwhile / at the same time)

I worked and then went shopping. Later on I met some friends for pizza.
I waited for a while in the restaurant. Before long, the waiter came up and asked me…
At that moment / Suddenly, I heard the door slam.
Meanwhile / At the same time / Simultaneously my phone started to ring.

People who are no longer “around”

An ex-president = no longer the president: “The ex-president of France is still influential.”
A previous / former boss: “A previous boss taught me how to make presentations.”
“My former boss now works for a different company.”
My late wife = my wife who has died: “My late wife painted watercolours.”

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