Past Simple for intermediate learners

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

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"Past Simple" Tense in English Grammar

What Is Simple Past?

When we want to talk about an event in the past, we use the 'simple past' tense. The action is finished in the past.

Structure

In English, based on their past forms, we have two kinds of verbs that are listed below:

Regular verbs get an '-ed' at the end of them while irregular verbs completely change their structures.

Regular Verbs

Most verbs are called regular in English and when we want to use them in the 'simple past' tense, we simply add an '-ed' to the end of the base form of the verb. Look at the following examples:

She talked to me yesterday.

As you can see, the action happened in the past and is finished.

They attended class the other day.

Irregular Verbs

Some verbs in English are irregular and their structure changes completely when they are used in different tenses. The table below shows some of the most common irregular verbs and their past forms:

The Verb The Past Form
Be Was/Were
Write Wrote
Speak Spoke
Run Ran
Become Became
Think Thought
Swim Swam
Go Went
Have/Has Had
Do/Does Did

Warning!

Please note that the 'to be' verb has two past forms. 'Was' is only used for the third-person singular. look at the following examples:

She was at school last year. (Not she were)

We were at a restaurant last week. (Not we was ...)

We can also use simple past tense in negative sentences and questions. Check out the following examples:

Didn't you write your homework at home?

As you can see, when we turn the sentence into a negative one, we use the base form of the main verb.

Were you at the theatre yesterday?

It is important to note that we use the past form of 'do' in order to turn regular verbs and 'to have' into negative sentences and questions. However, we do not need an auxiliary verb to turn 'to be' into negative form or question. look at the examples below:

She wasn't there when I got home. (Not she didn't was...)

Were you in the class before me? (Not did you were ...)

Warning!

Always remember that we do not add any '-s' to the verbs in the 'simple past' tense. Look at the following example:

He had a dog a long time ago. (Not he hads a dog....)

Uses

The 'simple past' tense is used in many different contexts. However, we are going to talk about some of the more common uses of this tense. Take a look at the following list below:

  • A time in the past
  • General facts in the past
  • Story-telling and narration

A Time in the Past

When we want to talk about an event in the past, whether it is specified or not, we can use the 'simple past' tense. Carefully study the examples below:

I went mountain climbing yesterday.

As you can see, the sentence is talking about an action in the past on a specific day.

She had a cat named Lucy many years ago.

Here, the sentence is about an event in the past but there is no specific time.

General Facts in the Past

Another use of the 'simple past' tense is to talk about general truths or simple facts. However, remember that these facts are in the past. Pay attention to the following examples:

Slavery was a rule in many countries.

My friend lived in the dormitory when she was a student.

As you can see, the sentence is talking about something in the past that is no longer happening in the present.

Tip!

It is useful to know that when we want to talk about a routine or a habit we had in the past, we can use the structure 'used to'. However, this structure is for habits that we no longer do in the present. Pay attention to the following examples:

I used to go swimming every weekend.

As you can see, the base form of the main verb is used after the 'used to' structure.

They used to call me every morning.

As you can see, it is necessary to use the preposition 'to' after 'used'.

Story-telling and Narration

When we want to tell a story, whether it is real or imaginary, we mainly use the 'simple past' tense. Take a look at the following examples below:

Mary was 23 years old. She had a dog named Aco.

She opened her room door and suddenly realized that her cat was dead on the floor.

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