Meaning of PAST in English


1. the past

2. all the things that have happened in the past

3. when something happened or was true in the past but not now

4. to try to do things as they were done in the past

5. on one occasion in the past




see also







1. the past

▷ the past /ðə ˈpɑːstǁ-ˈpæst/ [singular noun]

the time that existed before the present time :

▪ My grandfather enjoys talking about the past.

▪ There were several horse-drawn carriages, as a nostalgic reminder of the past.

in the past

during the time before now

▪ I decided to ask Anna, as she had always been very helpful in the past.

▪ In the past, doctors seemed to have more time for their patients than they do today.

the distant past

a long time before the present

▪ The programme describes events which took place in the distant past, towards the end of the last ice-age.

the recent past

not a long time before the present

▪ It’s hard to see events from the very recent past in their proper historical perspective.

a thing of the past

something that used to happen or exist, but does not any more

▪ For many people, a relaxing weekend has become a thing of the past.

past mistakes

▪ Our goal was to learn from our past mistakes and to use the lessons on this project.

▷ past /pɑːstǁpæst/ [adjective only before noun]

past events, experiences etc happened before now :

▪ He’s learned a lot from his past experience.

▪ Judging by her past performance, I’d say Rowena will do very well.

▪ Groups have put a lot into past projects, and have always seen an excellent result.

the past 10 years/2weeks etc

the 10 years, 2 weeks etc before now

▪ The past few months have been very difficult for Mary.

▪ For the past two weeks, I’ve been doing my boss’s job while she’s away on business.

▪ the enormous changes of the past 30 years

2. all the things that have happened in the past

▷ somebody’s/something’s past / somebodyˈs/somethingˈs ˈpɑːstǁ-ˈpæst/ [singular noun]

all the things that have happened to someone in the past :

▪ Greg didn’t like to talk about his past,

▪ The newspapers had been investigating the President’s past, hoping to find some scandal.

▪ The elegant buildings on the sea front give us a glimpse of Brighton’s more glorious past.

▷ history /ˈhɪst ə ri/ [singular noun]

all the things that have happened in the past, especially to a country, a town, or an organization :

the history of something/something’s history

▪ India has been invaded several times in its history.

▪ a book about the history of the United Nations

▷ record /ˈrekɔːdǁ-ərd/ [singular noun]

all the things that a person, organization, country etc has done in the past, especially when talking about how good or bad they are :

a good/bad/poor etc record

▪ As an employee, his record is outstanding.

▪ The US had serious concerns over the country’s poor human rights record.

record of

▪ The department has a long record of high achievement.

record on

▪ The industry’s record on conservation is not very impressive.

track record

a record that shows how experienced or skilful a person or organization is

▪ HMA has a great track record of managing hospitals.

3. when something happened or was true in the past but not now

▷ used to /ˈjuːst tuː/ [modal verb]

if someone or something used to do something, they did it for a period of time in the past, or they did it regularly in the past, but they do not do it now :

▪ ‘Do you smoke?’ ‘No, but I used to.’

used to do something

▪ We used to live in Glasgow when I was young.

there used to be

▪ Thirty years ago, there used to be a market in the town.

never used to

▪ It never used to rain as much as this.

didn’t use to do something


▪ I was surprised to see her driving - she didn’t use to.

used not to do something


▪ He used not to be so critical of other people’s behaviour.

▷ once/at one time /wʌns, ət ˌwʌn ˈtaɪm/ [adverb]

during a period of time in the past but not now - use this when it is not important to say exactly when this period was :

▪ Apparently he once worked for the FBI.

▪ It is a big city now, but at one time the population was only 50,000.

▪ a sports car once owned by Paul McCartney

▷ (back) then/at that time /(bæk) ˈðen, ət ðæt ˌtaɪm/ [adverb]

during a particular period of time in the past - use this when you are comparing that period with the present :

▪ I was a student in the 1950s, and things were very different then.

▪ At that time most married women stayed at home.

▷ in the past /ɪn ðə ˈpɑːstǁ-ˈpæst/ [adverb]

use this to talk about a situation that existed before the present time but does not exist now :

▪ In the past, most children didn’t go to school at all.

▪ Women were not allowed to vote or own property in the past.

▷ in those days/in the old days /ɪn ˈðəʊz ˌdeɪz, ɪn ði ˈəʊld ˌdeɪz/ [adverb]

use this to talk about a long time ago in your life, or in your parents’ or grandparents’ lives, when things were different :

▪ My great grandfather earned £5 a week, which was a lot of money in those days.

▪ In the old days there was no bridge over the river, and we crossed it by boat.

in the good old days

at a time when you think that things were better than now

▪ In the good old days people showed more respect to the older generation.

▷ in the olden days /ɪn ði ˈəʊldn ˌdeɪz/ [adverb]

at a time before you were born, especially hundreds of years ago :

▪ The children all wanted to know what life was like in the olden days.

▷ formerly /ˈfɔːʳməʳli/ [adverb] written

in the past, before the present situation existed :

▪ The local school was formerly a hospital.

▪ Peru was formerly ruled by the Spanish.

4. to try to do things as they were done in the past

▷ go back /ˌgəʊ ˈbæk/ [intransitive phrasal verb]

to return to an earlier time in your life, so that you can experience something again or change something that you did then - use this to say that you wish you could do this :

go back to

▪ I wish I could go back to my school days.

▪ Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to the days when life was slower than it is today.

you can’t go back

▪ It’s no use having regrets. You can’t go back!

▷ put/turn the clock back /ˌpʊt, ˌtɜːʳn ðə ˈklɒk ˌbækǁ-ˈklɑːk-/ [verb phrase]

to live part of your life again, so that you could do something in a different way, or experience something again :

▪ If I could turn the clock back, I don’t think I’d study law again.

put/turn the clock back to

▪ It would be nice to put the clock back to the years when Mum and Dad were still alive.

▷ live in the past /ˌlɪv ɪn ðə ˈpɑːstǁ-ˈpæst/ [verb phrase]

to try to behave or live as you did at some time in the past, usually because you do not like your present situation or you are unhappy that things have changed :

▪ It’s no good living in the past. You have to get on with your life.

▪ As people get older, they often tend to live in the past.

5. on one occasion in the past

▷ once /wʌns/ [adverb]

▪ She once called me a liar - I’ve never forgiven her.

▪ Once, when I was a little boy, I found a gold watch on the beach.

▷ one time /ˈwʌn ˌtaɪm/ [adverb] informal

on one occasion in the past :

▪ One time we went out fishing on the lake at night.

▪ Aileen came round to tea one time, and we did our homework together.

▷ one day/morning/afternoon /wʌn ˈdeɪ, ˈmɔːʳnɪŋ, ˌɑftəʳˈnuːnǁ-ˌæf-/ [adverb]

on a day, morning, or afternoon in the past - use this when it is not important to say exactly which day it is :

▪ Then, one day he went away and never came back.

▪ I was having my breakfast one morning when the telephone rang.

▪ One day, when we had nothing else to do, we went for a swim in the river.

▷ on one occasion /ɒn ˈwʌn əˌkeɪʒ ə n/ [adverb]

something that happened on one occasion happened once in the past, but is often typical of what usually happens :

▪ He drinks far too much. On one occasion I saw him drink a whole bottle of vodka.

▪ On one occasion I made the mistake of arriving at work late and my boss has never let me forget it.

▷ at one stage /ət ˈwʌn ˌsteɪdʒ/ [adverb]

if a particular situation existed at one stage during a period in the past, it existed, but only at that time :

▪ It was a terrible winter. At one stage, we had to dig our way out of the house.

▪ At one stage during the competition, it looked as though our team might win.

▪ I went on a diet and at one stage I weighed only 71 kg.

▷ at one point /ət ˈwʌn ˌpɔɪnt/ [adverb]

if something happened, especially something interesting or important, at one point during an activity or period of time in the past, it happened then :

▪ At one point in the interview Gorbachev admitted he had made serious mistakes.

▪ ‘You play the piano very well,’ I remember Mrs Saito remarking at one point.

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