Friday, May 27, 2011

Random stories - Narrative tenses

Random Stories
Where I will try to illustrate a language point with a story, no doubt with varying degrees of success.

Narrative tenses - a quick reminder

  • Past simple
    • Describes the main events of the story
    • Describes sequences of events
    • It is the 'standard' narrative tense. If in doubt, go for past simple.
  • Past continuous
    • Describes unfinished actions, especially around a certain time
    • Describes longer actions interrupted by shorter ones
    • Is often used for describing background actions
    • Is sometimes used to make the actions in a story seem more immediate, especially with the word now
  • Past perfect
    • Describes actions which took place before the main actions in the story
  • Past perfect continuous
    • Describes longer continuous actions which took place before the main actions in the story
    • Is sometimes used to explain the condition of people or things at the time of the main events in the story.
Now practise them with this little story

Exercise - Fill the gaps with suitable forms of the verbs given in brackets

  • Most of the answers are in one of the four narrative tenses
  • None of the answers use present tenses
  • There is one present participle after a verb of perception
  • There are two perfect participles (Having done sth), one of them negative
  • There is some reported speech, including a couple of future forms
Contractions - use contractions for negatives - don't, hadn't etc., but type in the full auxiliaries - have, had etc
You may not get exactly the same answers as I have. This doesn't necessarily mean I am right and you are wrong, or vice-versa. Language is not an exact science and is open to interpretation.
Instead of typing in all the answers, you might find it easier to print the exercise off and do it manually.

The Tragic Tale of Ruddy Wee Hoody

Part 1

There was this young girl called ..., actually I don't know what she (1) (be called) really, because I only ever (2) (hear) her being called by her nickname - 'Ruddy Wee Hoody', at least I think it was her nickname. It was how they usually (3) (refer) to her in the village, anyway. I always (4) (assume) that it (5) (come) from the red hooded top that she (6) (wear), day in day out, wherever she went. But I might have been wrong.
Anyway, one day her mother (7) (tell) her to take a basket filled with goodies to her granny, who (8) (happen) to live on the other side of the forest. Sorry, I forgot to tell you that this girl (9) (live) in a small cottage on the edge of a big forest, and that she (10) (spend) all her life there, up until that fateful day.
She (11) (set) off in a happy mood. The sun (12) (shine) through the trees, the birds (13) (sing). It was just as though everyone (14) (wait) for Walt Disney to come and draw the scene. What (15) (can) possibly spoil such a perfect day?
What indeed? While she (16) (walk) through the forest, she (17) (see) a wolf (18) (stroll) slowly towards her, humming something to himself. A minute or so earlier, the wolf (19) (watch) her from behind a tree, and (20) (think) to himself, 'She'd make a nice juicy meal'. But as he (21) (not want) to frighten her off he (22) (decide) to play it nice and cool, and so the nonchalant walk.

Part 2

As he approached the little girl, she (1) (remember) what her mother (2) (tell) her before she left the house. That on no account (3) (be) she to stop or dawdle on the way, or to talk to strangers. But the wolf (4) (look) such a handsome creature that she (5) (think) to herself, 'He's not like a real stranger.' So when he (6) (ask) her where she (7) (go) on such a fine day, she innocently (8) (reply) that she (9) (be) on her way to visit somebody on the other side of the forest. 'And who are you going to visit, Little Girl?', (10) (enquire) the wolf inquisitively. 'It's WHOM!', said the girl petulantly. 'One says, "WHOM are you going to visit?"'. She could be a pedantic little miss on occasion, our Ruddy Wee Hoody. But then thinking that perhaps she (11) (hurt) his feelings, she (12) (relent) and told him she was going to her gran's.
The wolf (13) (need) a bit of time to carry out the plan he (14) (think) up on the spot, so he (15) (tell) her that up ahead there (16) (be) a clearing full of beautiful bluebells, and what a good idea it (17) (will be) to pick some to take to her gran. When she (18) (protest) that her mother (19) (tell) her never to pick wild flowers, he (20) (laugh) and said that there (21) (be) thousands of them, and that nobody (22) (going to) miss a dozen or so. With which he (23) (disappear) into the forest, whistling to himself a tune from 'Oliver', his favourite musical - 'Food, glorious food'.

Part 3

When he (1) (arrive) at her granny's cottage, which was only a few minutes later as he (2) (take) a short cut, he (3) (knock) on the door. And before the poor unfortunate woman (4) (realise) what (5) (happen), the wolf (6) (burst) into the cottage, (7) (grab) the old lady and (8) (gobble) her up in one go, just like that. Then he (9) (get) into her night clothes, and (10) (jump) into the old lady's bed. (11) (eat) the little girl's granny, the wolf now (12) (feel) slightly better, but it was the little girl that the wolf (13) (look) forward to really, because, which I think I've forgotten to tell you, Ruddy Wee Hoody (14) (be) rather a plump young girl, and (15) (promise) to be a bit more nourishing than her old gran, who (16) (be) to be honest, a bit on the skinny side.
Not long after, the little girl herself (17) (arrive) at the door. She (18) (be) a bit out of breath because she (19) (run). 'Hopefully that's the last I've seen of that wolf,' she (20) (mutter) to herself, wondering if in fact he wasn't perhaps a little strange after all. Famous last words! Before she even had time to ring the bell, she heard a voice. 'Come on in dearie, it's open', (21) (say) the wolf, who (22) (watch) her walk up the path, from the bedroom window. 'That's funny', (23) (think) the girl, 'her voice seems a bit deeper than usual. Perhaps she's got a cold.' Then she (24) (remember) that her mother (25) (tell) her that her gran (26) (be) ill, and that was why she (27) (take) her the food.

Part 4

And when she (1) (see) her gran propped up in bed, it was true, she (2) (not seem) to be quite her usual self. She (3) (wear) her usual night gown alright, and her enormous nightcap. But there was something about her that (4) (not be) quite right. Her eyes (5) (seem) bigger than normal, and so did her ears, not to mention her enormous hooter. And just as Ruddy Wee Hoody was starting to say something about her gran's rather large teeth, before she (6) (can) even get the words out, the wolf (7) (decide) that enough was enough, that he (8) (can't keep) this up any longer, so he (9) (jump) out of bed, remembering a phrase he (10) (read) in some nursery rhyme or other, and which (11) (sound) rather appropriate to the occasion. 'All the better to eat you with', he (12) (snarl). Ruddy Wee Hoody (13) (be) quick to retort: 'Shouldn't that be "All the better with which to eat you"?'. 'Yeah, whatever', (14) (snap) back the wolf, by now thoroughly fed up with all this constant grammatical criticism, and he quite literally (15) (wolf) her down, right there on the spot.
Now some people say that this sort of story has to have a happy ending, and insist that a hunter (16) (happen) to be passing at that very moment (as they often do in fairy stories), and being a quick-witted sort of chap, (17) (open) up the wolf and (18) (rescue) both the unfortunate victims before you could say 'Jack Robinson'.
But there's another darker theory that questions whether Ruddy Wee Hoody was quite what she seemed, and rumour has it that at this very moment she (19) (whip) out a gun that for some reason she (20) (carry) in her knickers that day, and that she (21) (shoot) the wolf stone dead.
And there's yet another version, which suggests that Ruddy Wee Hoody (22) (meet) a sticky end at the hands of an ecomaniacal woodchopper, who, (23) (not read) the story, (24) (not realise) that he (25) (be) meant to save her. What's more, he (26) (see) her picking the flowers in the clearing earlier on, and being incensed at this act of wanton vandalism, (27) (decide) to avenge the poor flowers, which was exactly what he (28) (do).

The End

Language notes

ruddy (adj)red, especially when talking about complexion, also a mild swear word, eg. - what ruddy weather
weelittle (Scots)
hoody (n)hooded piece of clothing currently trendy with young people, also somebody who wears one with the hood constantly up
nickname (n)an informal, often humorous, name for a person, sometimes used by friends
day in day out (expr)every day
goodies (n pl)nice things, especially nice things to eat (usually plural)
nonchalant (adj)behaving in a calm and relaxed way; giving the impression that you are not feeling any anxiety
dawdle (v)to take a long time to do something or go somewhere
petulantly (adv)in a bad-tempered and unreasonable way
one (pron)Hoody's use of the impersonal pronoun 'one' is best avoided except in formal writing such as academic papers, and even then with care
whom (pron)Most of us would consider Hoody's use of 'whom' here for direct object as over-formal, old-fashioned and even pretentious
relent (v)to become less determined, strong, etc
bluebell (n)a type of flower, which often grows in woods and forests
gobble (v)to eat something very fast, in a way that people consider rude or greedy
plump (adj)having a soft, round body; slightly fat. Also euphemism for fat.
nourishing (adj)having good food value
promise to be sth (v)sth seems likely to happen; to show signs of something
hooter (n)nose (slang)
snarl (v and n)to speak in an angry or bad-tempered way, the sound an angry dog makes
retort (v and n)to reply quickly to a comment, in an angry, offended or humorous way
whateverhere 'whatever' means something like 'do I care?', 'Do you think I'm the skightrst bit interested in what you think?'
snap (v)o speak or say something in an impatient, usually angry, voice
to wolf down (phr v)to eat very quickly
before you could say 'Jack Robinson' (idiom)suddenly, immediately
knickers (n pl)underpants, especially a female's
wanton (adj)causing harm or damage deliberately and for no acceptable reason
avenge (v)to punish or hurt somebody in return for something bad or wrong that they have done to you, your family or friends



Part 1
  • 1. was called, 2. heard, 3. referred, 4. assumed, 5. came
  • 6. wore, 7. told, 8. happened, 9. lived, 10. had spent
  • 11. set, 12. was shining, 13. were singing, 14. was waiting, 15. could
  • 16. was walking, 17. saw, 18. strolling, 19. had been watching, 20. had thought
  • 21. didn't want, 22. had decided
Part 2
  • 1. remembered, 2. had told, 3. was, 4. looked, 5. thought
  • 6. asked, 7. was going, 8. replied, 9. was, 10. enquired
  • 11. had hurt, 12. relented, 13. needed, 14. had thought, 15. told
  • 16. was, 17. would be, 18. protested, 19. had told, 20. laughed
  • 21. were, 22. was going to, 23. disappeared
Part 3
  • 1. arrived, 2. had taken, 3. knocked, 4. realised, 5. was happening
  • 6. burst, 7. grabbed, 8. gobbled, 9. got, 10. jumped
  • 11. Having eaten, 12. was feeling, 13. was looking, 14. was, 15. promised
  • 16. was, 17. arrived, 18. was, 19. had been running, 20. muttered
  • 21. said, 22. had been watching, 23. thought, 24. remembered, 25. had told
  • 26. was, 27. was taking
Part 4
  • 1. saw, 2. didn't seem, 3. was wearing, 4. wasn't, 5. seemed
  • 6. could, 7. decided, 8. couldn't keep, 9. jumped, 10. had read
  • 11. sounded, 12. snarled, 13. was, 14. snapped, 15. wolfed
  • 16. happened, 17. had opened, 18. had rescued, 19. whipped, 20. had been carrying
  • 21. shot, 22. met, 23. not having read, 24. didn't realise, 25. was
  • 26. had seen, 27. had decided, 28. did

Printer friendly post

You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (Page 7). The exercises are on Pages 2-5, the language notes are on Page 6. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.


  1. Thank you. They're really well-thought activities.

  2. A really witty post that could come in handy for those who want to understand (or 'feel') tenses better. Thank you!