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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

Hi,

I note that the Simple Past Tense can be used to talk about something that happened (once or several times) in the past. Does "something" refer to an action or event, and happened means the action/event started and ended in the past?

Also, since Simple Past Tense can be used for something that happened several times in the past, does "several times in the past" mean this "something" (i.e. an action/event) started and ended several times (i.e. repeatedly) in the past?

Hi Rikimaru,

The past simple is used for completed/finished actions in the past. For example:

I read this book last week. [I finished it]

I read this book four times last year. It's my favourite! [I finished it four separate times]

I went to school in the 1990s. [I don't go to school now]

 

However, there are a couple of things to remember. The first is that the action may have consequences which are ongoing even if the action is complete:

He was born in 1933. [Being born is complete but he may still be alive]

 

The second thing to remember is that a state may not be finished but the speaker may only be interested in talking about a particular part of it which is in the past, or may choose to divide the time in to discrete chunks. For example:

I was a teacher in 1993 and in 1994 and in 1995 – in fact, I'm still a teacher now! [The speaker treats 1993/4/5 as separate and distinct periods of time in the past]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

So quoting your example, "I read this book four times last year. It's my favourite! [I finished it four separate times]", for instance, this means that the action of reading started and ended four times last year?

Hello Tim,

Yes, that's correct. The speaker would have to really like the book!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I wish to know if it is true that the simple past tense can be used (in speech or writing) without any time references and time adverbs/time adverbials?

For example, can I write/say "I washed the car" to mean that my washing of the car happened (i.e. started and ended in the past) without including any specific time references/adverbials like "last night" or "last week" etc? So in other words, whether it be "I washed the car" (i.e. use of simple past tense without any time reference) or "I washed the car last night/last week etc" (use of simple past tense with time references), both sentences are grammatical and make sense?

Hi Rikimaru,

Yes, that's right. The simple past shows that the action took place in the past, but stating when it took place (i.e., by adding a time reference) is optional.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

When you say "The simple past shows that the action took place in the past", do you mean the simple past shows that the action started and ended in the past (i.e. took place in the past = started and ended in the past)?

Hello Rikimaru,

Yes, that's right. The results of the action may persist or not, but the action itself was begun and completed in the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I worked hard today and became lazy after that. ;)

please help i (visit)lots of interesnig places

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