Past Simple Tense in English Grammar

Past Simple Tense in English Grammar

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

Past Simple Tense in English Grammar

Past Simple

In English, simple past 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. Since the verb 'to be' is an irregular verb, we first focus on that verb and then we will go through regular verbs.

Past Simple with Verb ‘To Be’

You can also use the simple past to talk about a past state of being, such as the way someone felt about something. This is often expressed with the simple past tense of the verb 'to be' and an adjective, noun, or prepositional phrase.

Personal Pronoun Verb ‘to be’
I/He/She/It Was
You/We/They Were

To make affirmative (positive) sentences with verb ‘to be’, all you need to do is add the verb to the subject of the sentence, followed by an adjective or any piece of information. Take a look at the following examples:

I was so tired at work yesterday .

Phyllis and Oscar were at the birthday party last Friday .

Both of these sentences refer to something that happened and ended in the past.

Past Simple of Verb ‘To Be’: Negation

To make a negative sentence in simple past, you need to add ‘not’ after the verb ‘to be’. This way, you can make sentences indicating that something did not occur or expressing feelings that no longer exist. Here are some examples:

The party wasn’t fun at all .

They weren’t interested in the movie at all .

Past Simple of Verb ‘To Be’: Contraction

Contraction means making something smaller in size. The contracted form for this verb in negative form is ‘wasn’t’ and ‘weren’t’ instead of ‘was not’ and ‘were not.’ The contracted form is more informal and therefore it is used mostly in speaking rather than in writing.

Past Simple of Verb ‘To Be’: Questions

Verb ‘to be’ can be used to ask questions about events in the past. You can make yes/no questions or wh- questions about the past with this verb. Making yes/no questions with verb ‘to be’ is rather easy. You have to bring the verb ‘to be’ to the beginning, followed by the subject and the rest of the sentence. Take a look at these examples:

Sally was absent on Wednesday . → Was Sally absent on Wednesday ?

They were alright after the accident . → Were they alright after the accident ?

To make wh- questions, you need wh- question words first. These words come at the beginning of the question right before verb ‘to be’ and the subject. Wh- words include: what, when, where, who, how, why. Take a look at the following examples:

His name was Jared . → What was his name ?

Past Simple: Regular and Irregular Verbs

In English we have two types of verbs; regular and irregular verbs. The difference between the two is that regular verbs do not change much in present, past or past participle, but irregular verbs greatly change in spelling. For example, the verb ‘eat’ is irregular but the verb ‘clean’ is regular; their past forms are ‘ate’ and ‘cleaned’ respectively.

Past Simple: adding 'ed' Rules

  • if a single syllable verb ends in vowel-consonant, double the consonant and add 'ed'.

chat → chatted stop → stopped

  • If the final consonant is w, x, or y, don't double it.

fix → fixed play → played

  • If last syllable of a longer verb is stressed and ends in consonant-vowel-consonant, double the last consonant and add 'ed'.

incur → incurred prefer → preferred

  • If the first syllable of a longer verb is stressed and the verb ends in consonant-vowel-consonant, just add 'ed'.

open → opened enter → entered

  • If the verb ends 'e', just add 'd'.

subside → subsided close → closed

  • If the verb ends in consonant + 'y', change the 'y' to an 'i' and add 'ed'.

cry → cried fry → fried

First, let us take a look at affirmative (positive) sentence. In these sentences the word order is the same as affirmative simple present sentences, where the subject came at the beginning followed by the verb; the difference is that in simple past tense, the verb is in past form. Take a look at these examples:

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.’

Remember

In past tense, all subjects are followed by the same verb and the verb does not change based on subject.

I / you / he / she / it / we / they drank some water this morning .

‘it’ refers to an animal in this example.

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.

Remember

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

Much like its simple present partners, ‘did’ helps in making questions and negative sentences. Both yes/no and wh- questions in simple past need ‘did’. Making yes/no questions in simple past is simple; you need ‘did’ at the beginning of your question, followed by the subject and the simple form of your 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 ?

Remember

Like ‘do’, ‘did’ is both a main verb and an auxiliary verb. Look at this example:

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.

Past Simple: Uses

We use the past tense to talk about:

A Definite Point in Time

  • We use past simple to talk about something that happened once in the past and it's finished.

I met my wife in 1983 .

I went to the cinema yesterday .

  • We use past simple to talk about something that happened several times in the past.

I often brought my lunch to school .

They always enjoyed visiting their friends .

An Indefinite Point in Time

  • We often use the past simple with indefinite time adverbs like, the other day, ages ago, a long time ago.

I met my wife a long time ago .

People lived in caves ages ago .

General Facts in the Past

  • We use the past simple to talk about something that was true for some time in the past.

I lived in a dormitory for four years .

She played a lot of tennis when she was younger .

  • the past simple to talk about finished actions, states or habits in the past when we know from general knowledge that the time period has finished.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth .

Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812 .

the Second Conditional

  • We can also use the past simple to refer to the present or future in hypotheses.

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

  • We can also use the past simple after words like 'wish'.

I wish I had more time !

An Action Interrupting Another One

  • We use the past simple together with the past progressive to show that the simple past interrupted an action which was in progress in the past.

We were watching TV when Jessica started crying .

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

Story-telling and Narration

  • We can use the past simple for stories or lists of events.

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

  • 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 .

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