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

Dear Sir,

I would like to ask a question about the usage of simple past tense. When we talk about a past event/what a person did in the past, and the relevant background information is still true now, should we use simple present or simple past?

Eg 1: the terrorist attack last Sunday was/is disgraceful.
Eg 2: The defendant was/is a taxi driver. He was convicted of careless driving 6 months ago.

Hello patph0510,

I think the past simple is the most likely choice here, and we would only use the present tense if we wanted to emphasise that we consider it to be still a current event in some way.

For example:

The existence of slavery in the US was a national disgrace. [past as slavery existed in the past]

The existence of slavery in the US is a national disgrace. [present because the speaker wants to emphasise that the disgrace remains even though slavery ended]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply! Am I correct to say that even if the defendant is still a taxi driver, we would use past tense to emphasize the fact that he was a taxi driver when the accident took place?

Thanks

Hello patph0510,

If the person is still a taxi driver then both past and present could be used. I think a newspaper describing an ongoing or very recent trial would probably use the present; someone describing a trial long ago would use the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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