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

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.

Hello Ted,

'loved' and 'gave' are past simple forms, but 'believeth' (which nowadays is 'believes') and 'have' are present simple forms. 'should not perish' is an older way of saying 'will not die'. In a more modern style, the idea is that God loved the world so much that he sacrificed his only son so that anyone who believed in him would find paradise.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Kirk. That's of great help. So we can take each clause individually rather than try to give the whole verse a tense definition. Many regards.

dear sir,

in the case of one example above, can i say ' they always enjoy visiting visiting friends' instead of 'they always enjoyed visiting visiting friends'? the latter has no past time marker

Hello jacader,

You can say 'They always enjoy visiting friends', which uses a present simple instead of a past simple ('enjoyed') form of the verb, i.e. both are correct. Repeating the word 'visiting', however, is not correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team 

ah ok, thank you sir. by the way, i have not able to check twice my question, so the word 'visiting' have been repated. just for further clarification sir, can i really use past simple tense without past time marker? or is the example above has hypothetical time marker through another hypothetical sentence?

thank you for time sir :)

Hello jacader,

The past simple for regular verbs is formed by adding 'd' or 'ed' to the end of the bare infinitie. This 'd'/'ed' is what I thought you meant when you said 'past time marker'. Did you mean something else?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

i mean like, yesterday, last night, etc.

Hello jacader,

Thanks for explaining! Yes, the past simple can be used without any adverbial of time - in fact it's quite common. There are some adverbials of time, however, that are not typically used with the past simple, e.g. 'this year'. In cases in which we refer to a time period that hasn't yet finished (2016 has not yet finished, so the time period of 2016 is still happening), the present perfect is more likely to be used. Our talking about the past page explains the differences between these two (and other) tenses.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

i see... now it's clear to me.
thank you very much sir!

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