English Grammar in Context – Tense Timelines, Mindmaps, Writing Tips, and More...

How to Talk About Combining Actions


You might have heard the expression 'cause and effect' before. This refers to actions or events which make it possible for other actions or events to happen. All of the actions we perform come to an end, and other actions or states of being inevitably follow. In this section, we will look at some ways to create connections between actions, states, or events. All tenses allow us to create these connections between two or more actions, but some tenses are more focused on connections than others, and they seem ready-made to deal with our intent.

A chain of events can be created by actions, states or events that interrupt, meet, or converge with ongoing actions. We have identified six tenses that allow us to create these chains with ease.


Past Continuous

Our first Two-Action tense is Past Continuous, which focuses on our engagement in a past action for a certain amount of time or up until a particular point in time. It is that engagement - that sense of being in the middle of something - that sets things up nicely for interrupting actions. Remember that this tense usually places both actions in the past, but that Action 2 is a completed action interrupting the ongoing Action 1.

She was delivering the presentation when the Manager came in. He didn't look happy.

DELIVERING-PRESENTATION.svg

Keep in mind that this example doesn't say whether Action 1 was stopped by Action 2. I could say, She was singing when she felt a headache come on, but she continued singing.


Past Perfect

The Past Perfect tense talks about a completed first action which was followed by another completed action. In this sense, it differs from Past Continuous, because there is a period of time between the completion of Action 1 and the occurrence (or beginning) of Action 2. They had arrived in New York before the storm hit:

NEW-YORK-BEFORE-STORM.svg



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