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Past simple

Level: beginner

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

called liked wanted worked

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

Base form Past tense
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

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 several times 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 expressions with ago with the past simple:

I met my wife a long time ago.

Past simple 1
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Past simple 2
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Past simple questions and negatives

We use did to make questions with the past simple:

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

But questions with who often don't use did:

Who discovered penicillin?
Who wrote Don Quixote?

Past simple questions 1
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Past simple questions 2
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We use didn't (did not) to make negatives with the past simple:

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

Past simple negatives 1
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Past simple negatives 2
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Level: intermediate

Past simple and hypotheses

We can also use the past simple to refer to the present or future in hypotheses (when we imagine something). See these pages:

Comments

Hello LearnEnglish Teachers,

You say that one of the uses of simple past tense is for "something that happened once in the past" - does this mean the same as "an action that started and finished at a specific time in the past"?

Thank you very much.

Hello VegitoBlue,

A specific time may be given, but is not necessary. For example, I might say this without a specific time reference:

I was born in England, not Ireland.

 

Happened in the past tells us that the action does not continue to the present. As the information on the page makes clear, it can be a single event, a repeated event or an event with duration.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr Peter,

Thank you very much. This mean that the better explanation for simple past tense use is "something that happened in the past" which mean the same as "an action that started and finished at a specific time in the past (and I can choose to mention or not mention the time)". Is this understanding correct?

Many appreciation for your teaching.

I remember that I memorized the form (present, past, present perfect) with the rhythm ♪

One of the uses of the simple past tense as described here reads "something that happened once in the past". I suppose this refers to an action that commenced and ended in the past? However, if so, wouldn't it be clearer to describe this use of the simple past tense as "something that happened and finished at some point in the past"? my point being that if you simply say "something that happened (that is, occurred/took place)", does it also imply that the action finished in the past?

Sorry if this seems confusing, I guess in this case I am not really questioning the use of the simple past, but more on the meaning of the word "happen", as used here to describe the use of the simple past.

Hello magnuslin,

There are various ways to define this use of the past simple but I think the description on the page is accurate and accessible for our users.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, thank you. But just to clarify, this way of describing the use of the simple past (that is "something that happened and finished at some point in the past") is correct too, and it means the same as the description on this page (that is "something that happened once in the past"), right?

Hello again magnuslin,

Yes, that's correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team,
I want to know the difference between:
Did she play tennis when she was younger?
Did she play tennis when she was young? Can we use either of the sentences?

Hello Charneet kaur

Both sentences are grammatically correct. What do you think the difference is? I'd suggest you focus on the words 'young' and 'younger'. There is a slight difference of meaning, though in some contexts this difference in meaning might not be so important.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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