Using Time Phrases in the Simple Past

An Amazing Journey

Ten years ago, I first discovered that I liked teaching English. At that time, I had no training, but I enjoyed the students and tried my best to help them. Last year, I started HollyTreeEnglish and this blog. An nine months ago, I began offering public classes on weekends. Yesterday, I created the live events for my first class about motivation for learning English. It has been an amazing journey and I have met some wonderful people. My students are my heroes.

We Need to say When

No, this is not an advertisement. It is another post about using simple past tense. When we talk about the past, we often need to explain how long before now the event happened. Or we need to explain the time period of an action. To do this, there are some phrases that are useful to know. This post will teach you some common ones.

Using Time Phrases in Simple Past

When you studied simple past before, your teacher told you that simple past tense is used for actions that were completed at a specific time. You know that this is not the only time we use past tense. However, it is very common to use simple past for explaining that actions, events, etc happened at a specific time. Here are some useful phrases to know.

1 2 3…. years/months/weeks/days/hours/minutes ago

last year/month/week

the day before yesterday


at that time

How do we Use Them?

How Long Ago?

The first group of phrases are used when we want to explain how long before now something happened. This is important for example when we want to say how long ago we started working at a current job. In my case, I explained how long before now I learned that I liked to teach English.

Ten years ago, I first discovered that I liked teaching English.

A Short Time Ago

The second group of phrases is used if we only want to tell someone that something happened in the year, month, week, hour, or minute before the time that we are speaking/writing.

Last year, I started HollyTreeEnglish and this blog.

“Yesterday” and “the day before yesterday” are easy. “Yesterday” is the day before today and a word that you learned in your beginning English class. “The day before yesterday” is the same as “2 days ago.” We can also say things like “the week before last,” and “the month before last.” They mean the same as “2 weeks ago,” and “2 months ago.” Learning these different ways to say things will add variety to your English speech and writing.

Special Phrase, “at That Time”

The phrase “at that time” is used when we already know the specific time. Sometimes we want to say that another event happened near the time of another event. We can also use it when we have already said a specific time. this phrase is used so that we do not repeat the specific time.

Ten years ago, I first discovered that I liked teaching English. At that time, I had no training, but I enjoyed the students and tried my best to help them.

Do you see how the 2 sentences go together? I did not have to repeat the time that I was writing about. i wrote the specific time only once. Learning phrases like “at that time,” and the other phrases in this post are useful for making your meaning clear when you talk about your life and adding variety to your English.

Special Note

A learner asked me if it is necessary to give the specific time of an action in every sentence. The answer is no. It is usually necessary to mention the only once. After this, the listener/reader knows the time, and can remember it when you finish your speech or story.

Your Turn

Yes, it is your turn again. Time to practice what you have learned. Leave a comment to tell me about some things that happened in your past. Use some of these time phrases to tell me when they happened.

  • Very cool. To make it easier for yourself, you can say “the year before last.” This also sounds more natural. I am glad you have a new skill that makes you more marketable.

  • Mateus Brum

    One year before last, I started to learn Android development, at that time, I didn’t want that, but for a economic reason, I was forced. Nowadays I am very happy with my past decisions.

  • Definitely a good reason to learn English. Did you learn everything from books?

  • Yeldos

    Seven years ago, I started to study English. At that time, I had know nothing, but I wanted to visit the USA.