Past Events in English: “There Was This Time When… Next Thing I Know…”

By Robby

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Hi guys, hello boys and girls and hello my dear fellow foreign English speakers! It’s me, Robby from and welcome back to my video blog! Now, in today’s video I’m going to give you two new English idiomatic expressions which is somewhat unusual because normally I’d be giving just one.

The reason being, if you learn a number of expressions all at once, especially if they describe a very similar concept, oftentimes you would get confused when we learn them all at once and then we try to speak all those expressions would mix together kind of.

So that’s why I normally suggest only focusing on one particular expression at a given time.

But in this particular case the topic that I want to touch upon today is discussing past events, all right? The reason being, a lot of my blog visitors have contacted me in the past asking me “Robby, can you tell me ways of simplifying my speech when I talk about past events because I oftentimes get confused about using the different tenses or whatever?”

And on top of that, a lot of my Fluency Star coaching clients have also expressed the same wish that we incorporate some storytelling basically into our programs. And by saying storytelling don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about some old style storytelling whereby the storyteller gets in front of the crowd and entertains everyone by telling entertaining stories. It’s not about that. It’s just about talk about past events, right?

So basically provided all this I have a pretty clear picture basically. A lot of you guys are struggling with talking about past events and that’s exactly the reason why I’m going to be touching upon that subject today.

And the two phrases will come in very handy because the first one “there was this time when…” is a great way of initiating the story, right? And then the phrase “next thing I know…” is a very handy way of making the transition from the past tenses into the simple present.

The reason being, you can use simple present when talking about past events. Surprise, surprise, a lot of you guys probably didn’t know that, right? And chances are that you didn’t because nobody really tells you that. You wouldn’t find that information in an English grammar book. Nobody would write in it that simple present can be used to talk about past events, right? But in reality it happens a lot. Native English speakers use this strategy a lot but nobody – I suppose nobody really thinks a great deal of it. You know what I mean, people just speak that way, okay?

But if you want to learn exactly how to use these two phrases “there was this time when…” and “next thing I know…” and how to make the transition from past tenses back to simple present to simplify your speech and get your story going, please bear with me and you’ll find it all out, my friends in a couple of moments!

Using Simple Present to
Talk About Past Events: Story #1

Hi my friends and welcome back. So here’s the first story. Basically today you’re going to be getting 3 stories involving 3 different ways of using these expressions. So there was this time when I was – as a matter of fact I was very young. It must have been like 20 years ago or something.

So there was this time when I was walking, it was quite late at night and I was walking to the shop, I remember now. Yeah, it was the local grocery shop. And there were two guys arguing and I didn’t think much of it and I was just walking past them and next thing I know I get a punch in the face, okay?

And then I turn around – and did you notice how I made the transition from using the past tense, I was walking to the shop and then I was walking past the two guys arguing and then I started using the present tense. Next thing I know I get punched in the face, I turn around and the guy is confronting me in the traditional boxer stance ready for a fight. And thankfully his friend jumped in between us and dragged the guy away, apologized and he said that that guy was having a big argument with his wife or something and he’s not himself really, right?

So he apologized to me and I just let the matter go and I continued on my way to the grocery shop. And did you notice how I went back to the past tense, right? I didn’t even notice that transition myself but that’s the way you do it, right? You start the story by saying “there was this time when…” and then you use simple past or progressive past depending on what kind of action you’re actually describing. I was walking to the store obviously it’s progressive, right? It’s “I was walking” not that “I just walked”, okay?

But anyway, then I said “next thing I know…” and then I made a transition into the simple present. And that’s exactly the way you can do it guys. It will simplify your speech big time, right? That was the first example and the next example is going to be – oh yeah, there was this time, again, grocery store. For some reason I picked two stories that involve going to the shop. There has to be something about those grocery shops, right?

Using Simple Present to
Talk About Past Events: Story #2

Anyway, there was this time when I was walking to the grocery shop with my dog. And as I oftentimes did back in the day I just left him out. No. I walked – I remember now. My memory is not what it used to be, my friends, right? So forgive me for constantly changing my story but that’s the way it happened. I thought that I left the dog outside which I didn’t, I just stayed outside with the dog and my kids went into the shop. Basically it was me with my daughters and a friend of theirs as well if I’m not mistaken.

And then next thing I know this guy comes over with his dog and pits his dog against mine and this crazy fight breaks out. And I was like what on earth is going on? I was totally taken aback and I didn’t even notice how I went back to the past and so obviously for me it’s no big deal. I can actually use past tenses, future tenses, whatever, you know what I mean because at this stage in my life I’m quite comfortable using all the different English tenses. But as a matter of fact having said that I have to admit that some tenses aren’t actually used, right?

So don’t take these words literally and don’t try to learn all the tenses and incorporate them into your speech, right? You have to be selective basically. There’s some tenses that aren’t actually used even by native English speakers. But what I’m getting at is that at this stage in my life I’m quite fluent, I’m quite comfortable with using different means of expression and talking about past and present and future or whatever, it’s no big deal to me. But if you struggle with that after the phrase “next thing I know…” you can definitely keep using the present tense throughout the rest of the story basically, right?

That was the second story and the third story… but before getting into the matter let me have a little bit of water please. My mouth is getting dry, right? Now, the last story is going to be about what my wife experienced.

Using Simple Present to
Talk About Past Events: Story #3

There was this time when she was driving to work and the roads were blocked for some reason. There was some sort of a military activity in the area or something. I’m not really sure. The simple fact of the matter is that there’s an army base nearby so they might have closed the road for some reason or another.

So she had to drive around some back road to get to her work, right? And then she’s driving there and this guy drives towards her and next thing she knows this guy suddenly tries to make a U turn and cuts her off and if not for her good reaction there would have been an accident for sure, right? Just because she slammed on the breaks she avoided the collision and basically the guy just turned around and drove off but she got a great fright, okay?

So that was the last example where I used the phrases “there was this time when…” and “next thing I know…” Or you can actually – if you talk about some other person you can say next thing she knows or next thing he knows. But basically that’s a great way of transitioning from the past tenses into the simple present and that’s when you can talk about past events using the present, simple present or present progressive, you know.

But the fact of the matter is that that simplifies your speech big time. You can talk about the past event as if it’s happening right now. It’s as if you are actually taking yourself and putting yourself into the past and you’re actually bringing the past back into now, into the present and you’re basically experiencing all those things all over and over again. And that’s how you tell the story, okay?

So if you have any questions guys please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comment section below. And yeah, thanks for watching my video and chat to you soon! Bye-bye!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • You’re welcome! 😉

  • Олег Бондаренко

    If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have been familiar with all those useful phrases. Thanks again.

  • Here’s a funny thing – right NOW I’m watching a YouTube video and responding to my e-mails and comments, and the moment I’m reading your comment, the guy in the video says “… the reason being is…” – a cosmic coincidence if you ask me, but it just goes to show that this phrase is a valid expression.

  • Thanks for the response, you wouldn’t believe but I actually wanted to respond to the comment starting with the SAME EXACT phrase “simple fact of the matter…”!!!

  • Олег Бондаренко

    The simple fact of the matter is that these expressions coexist and I don’t see the reason why we shouldn’t know them both.
    Thank you Robby. Great piece as usual.

  • Sergio

    “The reason being” sounds a little weird to me. “The reason why” shouldn’t be more appropriate?