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 question forms

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

Section: 

Comments

Hi.
In this sentence:
Did she play tennis when she was younger?
Can i wrote this way:
Did she played tennis when she was younger?
Thanks in advance.

Hello Ricardo,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi I'm raising a quick question in between past simple and past continuous tenses, and looking for advice.

Two expressions for same case, which one has been used the most? Is the second one inappropriate?

1. I jogged for 30 minutes every day before, but now I don't.
2. I was jogging for 30 minutes every day before, but now I don't.

thank you to help me out

Sophie

Hi 1004sufei,

As you suggest, both of these forms are grammatically possible. I would say that the first (jogged) is the more common. The continuous form (was jogging) cna be used to emphasise the repeated nature of an activity, but here that is already made clear by the time reference (every day) and so is superfluous.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter and further from that, as I saw 3 sentences have been quoted as examples of past continuous- for something that was happening again and again:
I was practising every day, three times a day.
They were meeting secretly after school.
They were always quarrelling.
all with time references.
do you think they are all superfluous because of existing time references? then these 3 sentences would have no existing value while simple past would be just fine.
I was thinking the continuous tense is used when you like to emphasize the time lasting about some types of verb, like jogging for 30 minutes, quarrelling, meeting and practising.

thank you for further advice

Sophie

Hello 1004sufei,

The sentences would all be fine in the past simple. However, continuous forms often suggest that the action was temporary or interrupted in some way and this may be important to the speaker.

The decision a speaker makes with regard to verb form is often dependent on the speaker's intention and perspective. Very often multiple choices are possible. Looking at very forms without paying attention to the context and the speaker's intention/perspective means that we are not seeing the whole story, as it were.

I think our section on the continuous aspect might be helpful for you. You can find it here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

There is an example for past simple tense:
They didn’t go to Spain this year.

I think that "this" means that a year is still not finished so present perfect should be used in the sentence. Why past simple was used here ?

Hello sikimiki,

That's very perceptive of you! The sentence is correct because whether we use the present perfect or past simple depends on how we perceive the event. In this case, for example, imagine that the people we are talking about always go to Spain for the Valentine's Day (February 14), but this year they didn't go. Since we are now in early March and the time that we expected them to go has passed, the past simple is the tense that makes the most sense. But we are still in 2017, so we still say 'this year'.

You could also say 'They haven't gone', and that would be fine. It focuses a bit more on the fact that the year is not over. Using the past simple puts more emphasis on the time they could have gone to Spain as a past time.

I hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Kirk, thanks for this great explanation.

Can you give me some help with the well known bible verse John 3:16;
I'm pretty sure it's simple past but seems complicated because it holds present and future aspects.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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