PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

Using narrative structures

There are many ways we can tell the same story. We might emphasise different points, we may pause before an important or funny part to create a dramatic effect, or we can even focus on different characters. Different people will tell stories in different ways, to the point that if two people try to tell the same story, you may end up listening to two completely distinct narratives.

Let’s consider the following sequence of events:

8 am - I went to work. 
10 am - A man broke into my house, ate all the food from the fridge and fell asleep on the sofa. 
5 pm - I arrived home and I saw the man. I called the police. 
5:10 pm - The police arrived and arrested the burglar. 

Normally, we will use the past tense to say what happened (though we can use the present if we’re describing the plot of a film or telling a joke, for example).

So, I could say: “Yesterday I went to work. Then a man broke into my house, ate all the food from the fridge and fell asleep on the sofa. When I arrived home, I saw the man and called the police. The police arrived shortly after and he was arrested”.

This could be one way of telling this story (although I have to say it is not very interesting as I just talked about the events as they happened using the past simple). Let’s see what else we could do: 

“You won’t believe what happened to me! Yesterday when I arrived home, I saw that someone had broken into my house, eaten all the food from the fridge and he was sleeping on the sofa! So, I called the police and he was arrested.”

You can see we still used the past tense, but made use of different past aspects (Past perfect: someone had broken - Past Continuous: he was sleeping on the sofa.). Using these different aspects allow us to play a little with the structure of the narrative (I didn’t even have to start the story from the beginning!) and make our story more varied and interesting!

You can find ways to use these aspects and some exercises by clicking on the following links:

Past continuous: 

Past Perfect: 

What about you? Have you got an interesting story to tell us?

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About Peartree Languages

Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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