The Time Traveller’s Verbs, Part 2: How We Changed the Past

In Part 1 of The Time Traveller’s Verbs, we met time travellers Captain and Sergeant Joe around a summer campfire. They explained present tense verbs to Kevin, Mia, and little Charlie, and then left abruptly on a new mission to the past.

There was a flash of blue light. A few seconds later, the Captain and Sergeant Joe walked up to the campfire. The Captain looked triumphant. Joe looked like he had been dragged backward through a hedge. His pants were ripped at the knees and his face was smudged with dirt.

“Now,” said the Captain cheerfully, “where were we?”

Mia looked at Joe, and then back at the Captain. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “I think we were just talking about verbs, but I’m not sure I remember everything…”

“What happened to you, Joe?” asked Kevin. “I don’t think you had all that dirt on your face when we were talking…or did you?” He shook his head as if to clear it.

Joe raised his eyebrows at the Captain. She shrugged. “We just returned from a mission to the past. Would you like to hear about it?”

“Yes, please!” said little Zifnat.

The Captain and Joe examined the anti-grav hover platform that now circled the fire, and carefully seated themselves on it.

“It’s good to hear such enthusiasm from you, Charlie,” said the Captain to little Zifnat.

“You mean Zifnat,” said Joe to the Captain. “You remember Zifnat, don’t you?”

“Of course,” said the Captain briskly. “A good strong Zardonian name. I remember your parents naming you after our Zardonian friends. I must have been thinking of someone else.”

“So,” said Joe, “we went back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci…”

“Oh, no, Joe,” said the Captain, “I think we should start with Isaac Newton. That’s the most exciting part of the story. And it will give us a great opportunity to teach our recruits here all about past tense verbs.”

“I knew you were going to say that,” muttered Joe.

“Did you really meet Isaac Newton?” asked Kevin skeptically.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain. “Well, sort of. We observed him for a while before we had our discussion with you on present tense verbs. Do all of you remember the four types of verbs we’ve learned so far—simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous?”

“I think so,” said Mia valiantly. It was clear she didn’t quite remember, but didn’t want to admit it.

“Well, the past tense has the same four types, along with a special one called the habitual past. We’ll try to use all of them in our story.

Simple Past

“Let’s begin with the simple past, which uses the past form of an action verb. Joe, why don’t you start us off?”

Joe adopted his best classroom voice. “As you may know, Sir Isaac Newton developed his theory of gravity after he saw an apple fall from a tree.  This happened on a specific day in the year 1666. We travelled to that day to observe how this event came about.”

“You can see why the simple past is used a lot for telling stories. Although they’re usually not as boring as that, Joe!”

“Hey, I tried to use the drama of the simple present tense the last time I told a story, but you said not to,” protested Joe.

Habitual Past

“Anyway,” said the Captain, “the habitual past is also used a lot when telling stories. You use the habitual past to talk about something that occurred regularly in the past. This tense uses the word would along with the base form of the action verb. Like this: ‘Newton would often stroll through his mother’s garden in Lincolnshire, which is where this momentous event occurred.'”

“I think your story is boring, too,” said Kevin. Joe high-fived him.

“There’s just no respect from the young anymore,” mock-frowned the Captain.

“I respect you, Captain!” enthused Mia.

Kevin rolled his eyes.

“Thank you, Recruit Mia,” said the Captain. “Well, the story’s about to get more exciting. Because Joe was hungry. So he ate an apple from the tree in Lincolnshire. Which was a big mistake.”

Joe blushed.

Past Continuous

“What happened?” asked little Zifnat.

“I’ll tell you what happened if you give me an example of the past continuous tense. This tense is used to describe an ongoing event in the past. Sometimes this ongoing event is combined with another event in the sentence—to show how something was in progress when something else happened. You use the past form of the verb to be, such as I was, along with an -ing word, like waiting. Can you think of an example, Zifnat?”

Zifnat stuck his tongue out in thought. “I waswaiting…to find out what happened next…when…a spaceship flew by!” He said this as the purple lights of a Zardonian spaceship blinked by overhead.

“Great job, Zifnat!” said Joe, and low-fived him so that Zifnat could reach him. Zifnat bounced up and down and almost fell off the platform.

“Careful there, youngster,” said the Captain, steadying him. “These things are dangerous. Sometimes I miss the old timeline, even if it had its problems.”

“What do you mean, the old timeline?” asked Kevin.

“Oh, that’s a story for later. So, where were we? Ah, Joe’s mistake. How could I forget?”

Joe glared at her.

“Joe was still eating the apple when Newton came outside to walk through the garden. While Newton was walking through the garden, we were both hiding, waiting for an apple to fall from the tree.”

Past Perfect

“And then what happened?” asked Kevin, drawn in to the story in spite of himself.

“Nothing,” said the Captain. “Because Joe had eaten the gravity apple!”

Bitten Apple

Mia gasped. “No gravity apple?”

“And it gets worse,” said the Captain with relish, while Joe looked away. “Because Joe had eaten the special gravity apple, our time machine disappeared.”

“No way!” said Kevin, while Zifnat shrieked in excitement.

“Yes. Had eaten, by the way, is an example of the past perfect tense. You use the verb had with the past participle of another verb. In this case, I was describing an event that was completed before another event happened.”

“The apple was eaten, and then the time machine disappeared,” said Mia in understanding.

“Exactly. Now, with linking verbs, you can use the past perfect tense to describe a mental or emotional state that was happening when another event occurred. Like, ‘I had known the apple was important, but I was still taken by surprise when our way home went up in smoke.”

“Enough already,” said Joe. “I fixed the situation, didn’t I?” He gestured at his ripped pants.

“Yes. After Newton went back inside, Joe climbed up the tree and started throwing apples until Newton noticed one falling when he looked out the window. It didn’t fall straight down, though, so it did affect his theory of gravity slightly. But we got our time machine back, even if it did have a different design.”

“We’d expected there would be other changes in the present,” said Joe. “And there were. We saw that when we were talking to you about present tense verbs.”

“There were too many changes, unfortunately,” said the Captain. “So we went back in time to fly by Leonardo da Vinci’s house.”

“What do you mean, too many changes?” asked Kevin.

“We’ll get to those when we talk about the future, I promise. For now, I have one more past verb tense for all of you. Mia, do you know what it might be?”

“The past perfect continuous?” asked Mia.

“Yes, Mia. You will make an excellent time traveller,” said the Captain.

Past Perfect Continuous

“For the past perfect continuous tense,” said Joe, “you use the verb had with been and the -ing form of an action verb. This tense shows how an event in the past was still ongoing when another event occurred. Like this: ‘We had been flying our time machine back and forth a few times when da Vinci finally came out and saw us.'”

“Isn’t it a bad idea to have people in the past see you?” asked Kevin.

“Normally, yes,” said the Captain. “Nice verb explanation, Joe. You do listen to me after all.”

Joe half-smiled and saluted her.

“I don’t get it,” said Mia. “I thought hiding from people was an unbreakable rule for a time traveller.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said the Captain. “We needed da Vinci to change his drawings of mechanical flying machines based on what he saw. Because we needed to change our future.”

“Whoa,” said Kevin. Zifnat yawned and rubbed his eyes.

“Mia, Kevin, why don’t you tuck Zifnat into his portable sleeping cubicle,” said Joe. “Then we can tell the two of you about the future.”

“Wanna hear…’bout…futr…” sighed Zifnat sleepily, as Kevin picked him up and carried him to bed. Mia hurried after him, not wanting to miss the story.

“Thanks for catching that Charlie was Zifnat, Joe,” said the Captain quietly. “It’s taking me longer these days to sync up the timelines in my head. It’s so frustrating.”

“Of course, Captain,” said Joe, eyeing her with concern. “Do you think Kevin and Mia are ready to hear about the future?”

“Yes,” said the Captain. “After all, it will be their future. And they’ll be taking over from us soon.”

“At least now they’ll have hope,” said Joe.

They stared into the flames, waiting.


Tune in next week for the final installment of The Time Traveller’s Verbs, when we will save the future of humanity!

This series of posts is dedicated to Shelley Sackier, blogger extraordinaire, who asked me to write about perfect and continuous verbs.

My son graciously agreed to contribute another picture to today’s story. 🙂

13 thoughts on “The Time Traveller’s Verbs, Part 2: How We Changed the Past

    1. It is great, isn’t it? My son studied a real apple to draw that, and I think he did a fantastic job coming up with his own take on a gravity apple. I’ll be sure to let him know you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I never learned the names for these when I was going through school. It’s something I picked up as an adult. We use verbs all the time, but we don’t tend to think about how they are constructed. When I first learned about the tense types, I thought, “So THAT’s how they work!” There’s just so much to learn. And I think that’s fantastic. 🙂


  1. This has got to be one of the most enjoyable ways to learn grammar, Sue. I can’t thank you enough. These posts will be referred back to more often than I’ve had hot dinners. I am incredibly grateful, and so look forward to the next installment!
    And congrats to your pint sized artist in residence. Those are some post worthy pics, indeed! 😀


    1. Thanks, ML! I’m glad you liked it. I appreciate you commenting on my post. Just so you know for next time (as I hope to see you here again), I don’t normally accept links in comments unless they are directly related to the post (like your Rocket Raccoon post from earlier). I’ve been enjoying your posts, so don’t worry – I will be checking them out, you don’t need to include a link. 🙂 Thanks again for coming by!

      Liked by 1 person

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