Past tense

Some languages grammatically distinguish the recent past from remote past with separate tenses. There may be more than two distinctions.

Various multi-word constructions exist for combining past tense with progressive (continuous) aspect, which denotes ongoing action; with perfect aspect; and with progressive and perfect aspects together. These and other common past tense constructions are listed below.

However, in the oral mode of North Germany, there is still a very important difference between the preterite and the perfect, and both tenses are consequently very common. The preterite is used for past actions when the focus is on the action, whilst the present perfect is used for past actions when the focus is on the present state of the subject as a result of a previous action. This is somewhat similar to the English usage of the preterite and the present perfect.

The past perfect is used in every German speaking country and it is used to place an action in the past before another action in the past. It is formed with an auxiliary (haben/sein) and a past participle that is placed at the end of the clause.

French has numerous forms of the past tense including but not limited to:

A difference between the pluperfect occurs between Portuguese and Spanish; in the former, a synthetic pluperfect exists which follows the imperfect conjugations, but -ra replaces the -va seen in the verb endings.

Other, smaller language families of Africa follow quite regional patterns. Thus the Sudanic languages of East Africa and adjacent Afro-Asiatic families are part of the same area with inflectional past-marking that extends into Europe, whereas more westerly Nilo-Saharan languages often do not have past tense.

A number of Native American languages like Northern Paiute stand in contrast to European notions of tense because they always use relative tense, which means time relative to a reference point that may not coincide with the time an utterance is made.