Forms

With most verbs the past tense is formed by adding -ed:

call >> called; like >> liked; want >> wanted; work >> worked

But there are a lot of irregular past tenses in English. Here are the most common irregular verbs in English, with their past tenses:

infinitive irregular past
be
begin
break
bring
buy
build
choose
come
cost
cut
do
draw
drive
eat
feel
find
get
give
go
have
hear
hold
keep
know
leave
lead
let
lie
lose
make
mean
meet
pay
put
run
say
sell
send
set
sit
speak
spend
stand
take
teach
tell
think
understand
wear
win
write
was/were
began
broke
brought
bought
built
chose
came
cost
cut
did
drew
drove
ate
felt
found
got
gave
went
had
heard
held
kept
knew
left
led
let
lay
lost
made
meant
met
paid
put
ran
said
sold
sent
set
sat
spoke
spent
stood
took
taught
told
thought
understood
wore
won
wrote

 

Use

We use the past tense to talk about:

  • something that happened once in the past:

I met my wife in 1983.
We went to Spain for our holidays.
They got home very late last night.

  • something that happened again and again in the past:

When I was a boy I walked a mile to school every day.
We swam a lot while we were on holiday.
They always enjoyed visiting their friends.

  • something that was true for some time in the past:

I lived abroad for ten years.
He enjoyed being a student.
She played a lot of tennis when she was younger.

  • we often use phrases with ago with the past tense:

I met my wife a long time ago.

Questions and negatives

We use did to make questions with the past tense:

When did you meet your wife?
Where did you go for your holidays?
Did she play tennis when she was younger?
Did you live abroad?

But look at these questions:

Who discovered penicillin?
Who wrote Don Quixote?

For more on these questions see our question forms page

We use didn’t (did not) to make negatives with the past tense:

They didn’t go to Spain this year.
We didn’t get home until very late last night.
I didn’t see you yesterday. 

Exercise

Comments

Hello Sir
Which answer for the following question is correct?
When I met him, he (type) the report.
_ When I met him, he was typing the report.
_ When I met him, he had typed the report.
Can both "tenses" be used with the word "when"?
Regards

Hello bakh.sh85,

Both of those sentences are possible, as are many others (he typed, he was going to type, he had been typing etc). Without any context, it is not possible to say which form is preferable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for your reply, Sir.

Sir,

I came across the following sentence in a grammar book .
"John has become engaged ; it took us completely by surprise."
I would like to know whether we can use 'have taken' instead of 'took' in the second clause. Is there any rule regarding this ?

Hello p t balagopal,

It would be possible to use 'has taken' here but it would depend upon the context.

The phrase 'become engaged' does not sound particularly natural to me, however. We would be more likely to say 'get engaged'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Please clarify whether the example in the past simple usage - We went to Spain for our holidays is correct or should be 'We went to Spain for our holiday'
Thanks

Thanks Peter M for your explanation

Hello seelan65,

Both forms are possible here, but there is a difference in meaning.

The phrase 'for our holidays' can mean the time we have free (some weeks in the summer, for example) or it can mean a particular vacation or trip.

The phrase 'for our holiday' means a particular trip.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

We use “Did...+infinitive” to form question in the past. In what situations I use “were” to form question?

For example: what was the wealther like yesterday?
Why cannot said like
What did the wealther like yesterday?

Or Were you alone? And Did you alone? What is different between those sentences.

Hello Vivian888999,

When the main verb in the sentence is a form of 'be' then we invert the verb and subject to form a question:

He is a teacher > Is he a teacher?

You are alone > Are you alone?

 

When the main verb is not 'be' we use the auxiliary verb 'do' in the appropriate form before the subject and the base form of the main verb:

She lives in London > Where does she live?

They watched the film at the cinema > Did they watch the film at the cinema?

 

When the verb has two parts, we invert the subject and the first auxiliary verb:

You have lived here for ten years > Have you lived here for ten years?

The class will be going to Paris next week > Will the class be going to Paris next week?

 

You can read more about question forms on this page and this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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