Present Simple vs. Past Simple

There are similarities and differences between past simple and present simple, which might cause confusion. To learn more, click here!

What Are Their Main Differences?

The clearest difference among past simple tense and present simple tense is that they talk about different time periods. Past simple tense tends to talk about past events and actions. Present simple, however, talks about events that are happening right now or will happen in the future.

Uses and Comparison

1. Describing Events

Present simple tense, as mentioned earlier, tends to describe events from the present and the future, while past simple tends to describe events in the past. Now pay attention to the following sentences. As you can see in the first set of two examples, their only difference in the sense of looks is the '-ed' added to 'play' which changes its tense into past simple. The change in the look of our sentence is very little but the change in meaning is huge.

I play Golf.

The speaker is saying that they are playing golf and will probably keep playing in the future as a routine.

I played Golf.

The speaker is saying that they already played golf and it has ended a while ago.

She watches new movies.

This sentence is in present simple tense, and that is why we have the case of 'es' with 'watch.' It talks about 'she' and that they watch new movies and will probably continue this routine in the future.

She watched new movies.

Here we have the classic 'past simple' with its '-ed.' This sentence indicates that 'she' used to watch new movies but now they stopped and no longer watches new movies.

2. Narration and Commentary

The 'present simple tense' is for actions that happen right now in the moment of speaking and writing. In this case, actions end before we even finish speaking. This is mainly heard in the commentary of sports events. In the past simple tense, we only talk about actions that already happened and are for way back in the past. Check out these examples:

Hamilton closes the distance.

This sentence reports how one athlete is closing the distance with another athlete.

Hamilton closed the distance.

Here, Hamilton has already closed the distance and probably even overtook the other athlete.

He passes the ball.

This sentence is reporting the ball being passed by 'he.'

He passed the ball.

The ball is already passed and is probably in possession of other athletes.

3. Fixed Events

Let us say that we want to talk about a fixed event or action in which we cannot change anything about it. In this case, we can use the present simple tense to talk about these events or actions. Now, what if these events are in the past? Events in the past cannot be changed in any way, that is why we use 'past simple' to talk about such events. In this case, we mention when the event occurred or we already know that detail. Have a look:

The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

This example talks about a meeting that is about to happen and is related to the present or near future.

The meeting started at 9 o'clock.

This example, however, is saying that the meeting was at 9 o'clock and has already finished.

The train leaves at midnight.

'The train' in this example is leaving the station at midnight meaning that it is leaving at midnight which is a near future.

The train left at midnight.

In this example, we have a case 'past simple tense.' It shows that 'the train' has already left and you missed your train.

Signal Words

Now we come to 'signal words.' But what are they? There are signal words in English which indicate the relationship between ideas. We use signal words such as 'always,' 'often,' 'usually,' 'sometimes' with present simple tense to mention the timing of the events and actions that we are talking about. Yes! Past simple tenses also use signal words. They use them to indicate the timing of the events and actions, such as 'last month,' 'on Saturday.' Take a look at the following examples:

I always go for a walk.

I went for a walk last week.

He often visits us.

He visited us on saturday.

Structures

We compared the two tenses and analyzed examples. Before we depart, let us wrestle one final obstacle out of the way. Structure! We mentioned earlier that we will talk about the structure of the two tenses and here we are.

1. Past Simple Tense

We will begin this section with 'past simple tense' and its structure rules:

1.1. Regular Verbs

You can easily create 'past simple' by adding '-ed' to the base form of regular verbs. Have a look:

Walk → Walked

Call → Called

1.2. Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs are in a sense 'irregular.' These verbs do not simply take '-ed.' They do not follow a certain pattern. Have a look:

Base form Past form
Be Was/Were
Have Had
Bring Brought
Awake Awoke

2. Present Simple Tense

Now we will tackle the present simple tense and its structures:

2.1. Regular Verbs

The case of regular verbs with present tense is very easy. We just use the basic form of that verb. But nothing comes this easy! There is an exception with the third person singular. When making affirmative sentences in the third-person singular, we need to add the third-person 's' to the main verb. Have a look:

I drink coffee.

She drinks coffee.

We eat lunch together.

He eats lunch by himself.

2.2. Irregular Verbs

'To be' verbs and 'to have' verbs are very unstable and tend to change their forms a lot. They also change their form when it comes to present simple. That is why we call them 'irregular verbs.'

Personal Pronoun Verb to be Verb to have
I Am Have
He/She/It Is Has
We/You/They Are Have

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