Past Simple

Past simple tense is one of the most exciting and important tenses in English. We often use it to talk about what happened before.

"Past Simple" Tense in English Grammar

What Is Past Simple Tense?

The past simple (also called simple past, past indefinite, or the preterite) is the tense of nostalgia; the tense that you can use to reminisce and remember. The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now.

Past Simple: Structure

In English, there are two kinds of main verbs. One is the regular verb and the other is the irregular verb. In this article, we will take a look at the structure of each.

Regular Verbs

Regular verbs in English create the past simple and past participle by adding -ed to the base form. If you want to know the spelling rules of adding -ed click here. In English, the simple past of regular verbs is very easy because it is the same for all persons.

Past Form
walk walked
arrive arrived
call called
push pushed

For example:

I walked all the way from the mall to my house in an hour.

He pushed the button of the elevator with agitation.

Irregular Verbs

A verb that does not follow the standard pattern for conjugation is called an irregular verb. In English, verbs such as 'walk,' 'enter,' and 'love' are regular because we can conjugate them by adding -ed. However, verbs such as 'eat,' 'put,' and 'have' are irregular because they do not follow the same pattern.

Past Form
be was/were
have had
fall fell
buy bought
go went
choose chose
come came

Here are the examples:

Phyllis and Oscar were at the birthday party last Friday.

We went to the supermarket yesterday and Jamie bought groceries.

'We' and 'Jamie' are our subjects and they are both followed by the past tense of two irregular verbs, 'go' and 'buy.'

Tip!

In past tense, all subjects are followed by the same verb and the verb does not change based on the subject. Pay attention to this example:

I/You/He/She/It/We/They drank some water this morning.

Past Simple: Negation

Just like simple present, the negative form and questions in simple past need an auxiliary verb: 'did.' It is the past form of 'do.' To make negative sentences in past tense, you need to bring the subject at the beginning, followed by 'did not' or its contracted form, 'didn't,' and the main verb.

Tip!

Whenever you have 'did' as an auxiliary verb in your sentence, your main verb can only be used in simple form. Take a look at the following examples:

I didn't talk to Chelsea about that matter.

As you can see, the verb after 'didn't' is the base form of the verb.

Julie didn't do the dishes last night.

'Do' is the main verb and its simple form is used after 'didn't.'

Past Simple: Questions

Similar to the simple present tense, 'did' is used to form questions and negative. Both yes/no and wh- question in the simple past require 'did'. To form a yes/no questions in the simple past, simply use 'did' at the beginning of the sentence, followed by the subject and the base form of the main verb. Take a look at these examples:

Jim talked to me last night. → Did Jim talk to you last night?

They completed the project last night. → Did they complete the project last night?

You can make wh- questions to ask for information about the past, but you need wh- words first, including what, when, where, who, how, why. In order to make wh- questions, you use a wh- word at the beginning, followed by 'did' and the subject. The main verb comes after, and you should remember that it is always in simple form. Take a look at the following examples:

Peter found his keys in his pocket. → Where did Peter find his keys?

Anna passed the exam poorly. → How did Anne pass the exam?

Tip!

'Did' can both be the main verb and the auxiliary verb. Look at these examples:

I did the laundry last week.

Here, ‘did’ is a main verb indicating that an action was performed.

Did you do your homework?

‘Did’ here is an auxiliary verb and its simple form, ‘do’, is the main verb.

Using Past Simple to Talk about Past Events

Past Simple: Uses

We use the past tense to talk about:

  1. Single or Repeated Actions That Happened in the Past
  2. Actions or States That were True For Some Time in the Past
  3. Story-telling and Narration

Single or Repeated Actions That Happened in the Past

The past simple tense is used to describe an action that took place once in the past and is now finished. This tense refers to actions that started and ended in the past. In other words, it describes a completed action in the past. Here are some examples:

I met my wife in 1983.

I went to the cinema yesterday.

We often use the past simple with indefinite time adverb like 'the other day,' 'ages ago,' 'a long time ago.' They all refer to a past time. Look at these examples:

I met my wife a long time ago.

People lived in caves ages ago.

The past simple tense is used to describe something that was true or happened in the past, but is no longer true or relevant to the present. This tense is used to describe completed actions or events that took place at a specific time in the past. Check out these examples:

I lived in a dormitory for four years.

She played a lot of tennis when she was younger.

The past simple tense is used to describe finished actions, states, or habits in the past when we know that the time period has ended. These actions or states are no longer happening and are considered to be completed. Check out these examples:

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.

Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812.

We use past simple to talk about something that happened several times in the past. To be clear the action might have happened regularly and habitually in the past. For example:

I often brought my lunch to school.

They always enjoyed visiting their friends.

Actions or States That were True For Some Time in the Past

We use past simple to talk about something that was true for some time in the past. take a look at some examples:

Everybody worked hard to pass the test.

I stayed in dormitory in London.

Story-telling and Narration

We can use the past simple for stories or lists of events. To show the sequence of events for the actions that happened in the past we use the simple past tense.

Sid went to a Chinese restaurant. He called the waiter and ordered lunch.

Grammatical Notions

Common Time Expressions

  • yesterday
  • last week/month/etc.
  • ago
  • in 1974
  • when I was young

The Second Conditional

The past simple tense can also be used to refer to hypothetical situations in the present or future, using a structure known as the second conditional. This structure describes what would have happened in the present or future if something else had happened in the past. Look at the examples:

If I had 100 millions, I would buy a yacht.

Subjunctives

The past simple tense can also be used after words like 'wish' to indicate a desire for something that is not currently possessed or to express regret about something in the past. This usage conveys a hope for something that may be attainable in the future or a longing for something that is not currently possible. For example:

I wish I had more time!

Subordinating Conjunctions

The past simple tense is used in conjunction with the past continuous to show that a completed action interrupted an action that was in progress in the past. This usage typically involves a while-clause or when-clause in the sentence. Look at the examples:

We were watching TV when Jessica started crying.

While she was washing the dishes, he burst into the kitchen.

We use the past simple with finished actions, states, or habits in the past that we have introduced with the present perfect or another tense.

I've seen Sally recently. I saw her at Allison's party.

I've traveled a lot. I went to Brazil last summer.

Review

Past tense is used a lot in English in different situations. So, it is important to know how to conjugate them:

  1. Regular Verbs ( the general rule is to add -ed to the basic form of the verb): all subjects + played/didn't play
  2. Irregular Verbs (there is a change in the form of the verbs): all subjects + ate/didn't eat

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