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I Want to Tell a Story Using Past Tense - Tick, Tock, Clock

by Sally Jennings

Time Words for Personal Stories

After I was a little boy,” wrote the man. No, no, he thought, that wasn't quite right. “When I was not anymore a little boy...” Almost but not quite, “When I was no longer a little boy...” Yes, that was it.

“To the time I was five...” Oops, thought the Grandma, “to” was what she meant, but there was a longer word. She stroked her face and thought. “Until I was five...” Much better.

“In two days time I want to...” No, the student thought, there was another expression for that. “The day that comes after tomorrow...” Not right yet. “The day after tomorrow I want to...” Now it was perfect.

Children’s stories about times in the past sometimes begin “Once upon a time,” or “Long, long ago,” or “In ancient times, ” or “In times past.” These are good introductions to stories that are about events that happened many years before our time. But which words are the right words to talk about the events in our own lives?

We express time as a “linear” metaphor. That is, events may be placed in terms of each other on a “time line.” Basic terms to show the relationships between events are “first, next, last.” Another expression for first is “at the beginning,” as in “at the beginning of our marriage, I believed that...”

The longer the story is between first and last, the more words you will need for “next.” Instead of repeating the word “next” several times, you can use “and then,” or “when we had (past tense verb).” Other useful expressions are: “after that, “about that time,” “in a few hours (days/weeks/months/years),”or “once that was taken care of.” Duration (length of time) expressions are: “over a period of time,” or “for a few hours (days/weeks/months/years),”or “for many hours (days/...).”

Other terms for “last” are “finally,” “when we had finished,” “when we were through,” “when it was over, “ ”at the end,” or “after all this had taken place.”

You may substitute any time word (days, minutes, and so on) in the structure “(number) days ago,” as in “three days ago, we made cookies.” “Last year,” “last month,” and “last week” are fine. Note, it is not correct to say “last day” or “last hour.” Instead, use “yesterday” and “an hour ago.”

“Yesterday,” (one day ago,) “today,”(the present day), and “tomorrow” (one day in the future) are the correct forms. Note again, it is not correct to say “next day” or “next hour.” Instead, use “tomorrow” and “in an hour.” However, “next week,” “next month,” and “next year” are fine.

Other useful expressions of future time are, “the day after tomorrow, ” and “the year after next.” There are many forms of the structure, “(number) seconds from now,” since “seconds” can be replaced with minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, or decades.

So, a sample personal narrative using time words might look like this:
At the beginning of our marriage, I believed that a Model Wife should do all the housework. That idea lasted about two months. I was working full time outside the home at the time, and just got too tired to do every last bit of housework.

About that time, we bought a new washing machine. My husband was very interested in making sure this new washer worked well. So I thought, good, he can do the wash from now on. Over a period of time, he learned how to do all the household wash, and never complained.

Next, we needed a new kitchen floor. About two months later he told me the floor looked a little dirty, so I simple handed him the mop. It turns out he is better at mopping than I am, and considerably more interested in the task.

Our most recent purchase is a new living room carpet. The third day after it was installed, I caught him picking up small cookie crumbs our daughter had dropped on it. Wonderful, I thought, and handed him the vacuum cleaner. It turns out he loves to vacuum.

I truly hope the story does not end here. So far, our home is cleaner than I could ever keep it. It turns out that my Model Husband is much better at housework than this Model Wife.

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