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:

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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 11/04/2016 - 06:55

In reply to by hahalulu

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Hello hahalulu,

It's not really possible for me to say how the past tense is being used in each sentence without knowing the context, but, for example, in the second and third sentences, it could be indicating a past action or it could be used as a polite form. Sometimes to 'soften' a request, people use the past tense, which is less direct and therefore considered more polite. This is similar to the way you can ask for permission using 'can' (present tense - 'Can I open the window?') or 'could' (past tense - 'Could I open the window?') – the form with 'could' is a little more polite.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by marcus78 on Tue, 05/04/2016 - 08:27

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Hi Sir, Since the below sentence is about past tense. Is it correct if i put the new sentence in the bracket? They didn’t go to Spain this year. (They didn't went to Spain this year). Replace "go" with "went" We didn’t get home until very late last night. (We didn't got home until very late last night) Replace "get" with "got" I didn’t see you yesterday. (I didn't saw you yesterday). Replace "see" with "saw". Please correct me. Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 05/04/2016 - 11:51

In reply to by marcus78

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Hello marcus,

What you suggest is logical, but it is not correct. It might help to think of the auxiliary verb 'did' (in 'didn't') as the word that tells you the tense, and then of course the base forms ('go', 'get' and 'see') tell you the action. But if you find this idea confusing, please ignore it! 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by malikhd on Sat, 02/04/2016 - 22:55

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which is the correct answer? and why? I paid her one dollar, When she answered my question. I was paying her one dollar, When she was answering my question. I was taking a bath when the telephone was ringing. I took a bath when the telephone rang.

Hello malikhd,

I'm afraid we can't tell you which one is correct, because each sentence describes the actions slightly differently. For example, the first sentence is general, just describing what you did when she answered the question but not focusing on exactly which action started first. In the second sentence, the same situation is described but with a focus on the moment, i.e. that you were paying at the same time that she was answering.

I'd suggest you take a look at our talking about the past page, which explains how the different past tenses are used. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Happy's papa l… on Mon, 21/03/2016 - 09:15

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Sir, can I put 'just' in the past tense? I want to emphasize action that 'just happened' but the other action is happening. Is it correct sentences ? I was sleeping when my friend just came. or can I write this present perfect: My friend has just came when I am sleeping. If this stucture is not well please corrected. Thanks.

Hello Happy's papa,

You can certainly use 'just' with the past simple tense, but I think what you want to say is something like 'My friend came just a moment ago, when I was sleeping'. Does that sound right to you?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lxndra on Mon, 01/02/2016 - 14:50

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Hello, Can you think of any exceptions to the following 'rules'? The past simple form of the verb is used to describe finished events or states.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 02/02/2016 - 06:44

In reply to by lxndra

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Hello lxndra,

Every verb form in English can be used in more than one way, and the past simple certainly can – under the category Use (above) you can see four of these uses and if you browse this English Grammar section more, you'll see other uses as well.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dananjaya Rajapaksha on Mon, 25/01/2016 - 16:33

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sir, i have a doubt whether bellow mentioned sentence correct or wrong " didn't you come to school"

Hello Dananjaya,

That is correct – it just needs a question mark ('?') at the end.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by j.Lux16 on Fri, 15/01/2016 - 04:09

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Thank you very much for helping us, Sir. It will help a lot to us. I would like to ask what is difference of these following sentences and also check if it is correct or incorrect: 1. We never do anything wrong 2. We never did anything wrong 3. We will never do anything wrong 4. We haven't done anything wrong 5. We had not done anything wrong 6. We will have done anything wrong 7. We are not doing anything wrong 8. We weren't doing anything wrong 9. We will not be doing anything wrong 10. We haven't been doing anything wrong 11. We hadn't been doing anything wrong 12. We will haven't been doing anything wrong

Hello j.Lux16,

I'm afraid we can't answer questions like this! You're asking for a very long and detailed explanation of multiple points of grammar - essentially an individual lesson here. In the comments section our role is to help with questions relating to material on the page. When time allows, we try to deal with other questions too but we can't provide individual lessons for our users, I'm afraid.

Your questions are all about verb forms - time, tense and aspect. You can use our grammar section on verbs to research these forms and I'm sure that will help. Then, if you have any specific questions about particular examples we'll be happy to try to help.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by syahruzzaky on Wed, 23/12/2015 - 22:32

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Dear admin, Which is correct use; "simple past" or "past simple"? Thanks in advanced for you answer.

Hello syahruzzaky,

Both terms are very commonly used and as far as I know both are correct. It's mostly a matter of personal preference whether you use one or the other.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Malik Shahbaz on Mon, 21/12/2015 - 16:31

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Hi. I do not understand third form of any tense. please give me some tips about that how i would learn it. For example, Radio Licences are issued here. i know it this a passive voice but how it i know it.

Hello Malik Shabaz,

You know this is a passive because it is formed with 'be' ['are'] and the third form ['issued']. Most third forms are regular, but there are irregular forms too and these simply have to be memorised. As to when to use it, this is a question of learning not the third form but the whole verb form which includes it. The third form is rarely used on its own.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shania1011 on Tue, 24/11/2015 - 13:11

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Umm... I have something to ask you, sir.. Which one is the right sentence a) We started to practice b) We started to practiced Thanks in advance.. I'm sorry with my terrible English

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 25/11/2015 - 06:54

In reply to by Shania1011

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Hello Shania1011,

We're happy to help users with this kind of question, but we do ask that you to tell us which one you think is correct or incorrect and why – you can learn much more this way!

In this particular case, I'd suggest you refer to our verbs followed by to + infinitive page – it may help you analyse sentence b).

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Osama gasim Mohamed on Sun, 06/12/2015 - 09:51

In reply to by Shania1011

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a) We started to practice.... Is correct because the infinitive ( to + base verb)

Submitted by Dagar on Sun, 11/10/2015 - 15:57

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Hi, I am not sure what's the difference between a gerund and an infinitive. I love playing football I love to play football Do both the sentences mean the same or is there any difference, So if you could please tell me when to use a gerund and when an infinitive Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 12/10/2015 - 22:35

In reply to by Dagar

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Hi Dagar,

We actually have several pages devoted to this topic. Take a look at this page and this page, and I think you'll find the answer to your question.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Grace_C on Mon, 24/08/2015 - 13:12

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Dear sir, "How DID this even happen?" that applied here is it similar with "Where DID you go?" To apply DID for only past tense? And why "HAPPEN" instead of "HAPPENED"? Thank you and hear from you soon.

Hello Grace_C,

In this sentence 'did' is the auxiliary verb used to form a question in the past tense. In questions, the auxiliary carries the tense information; the main verb is in the base form, not a past form, for example. Thus, 'happen' is correct and not 'happened'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ronaz2015 on Sat, 18/07/2015 - 12:16

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Hello teacher, and thank you for replying,.could you please look at this: My friend was supposed to visit me. If am still at the bas stop waiting him(i waited him from 9 to 11 and hi didn't show up what is correct : I have waited him for 2 hours (since 9 o'clock) I have been waiting him for 2 hours. -I come back to home and he didn't come(i am talking with my family) I waited him for 2 hours(or untill 11 o,clock) I have waited him for 2 hours (untill 11 o'clock)

Hello ronaz2015,

In the first situation, where you're still at the bus stop, by far the more likely statement would be 'I've been waiting for him for two hours' (notice you wait for someone or something).

In the latter situation, when you're at home speaking to your family, the version with the past simple is the best – using the present perfect doesn't work, because the period of time you're speaking about already finished.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sistersepti on Mon, 22/06/2015 - 16:14

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Hi there, Could you please explain me more about this point: - Something that happened again and again in the past ex: When I was a boy, I walked a mile to school every day. Is that use the same with the use of 'used to'? because Both are telling a habit and both happened in the past. So, I can say, 'When I was a boy, I used to walk a mile to school every day'. Thanks

Hello Sistersepti,

Yes, this sentence with 'used + infinitive' is also correct. As it used to speak about a past habit that is no longer true, 'used + infinitive' is used in a more limited set of circumstances than the simple past. For example, 'used + infinitive' is not used to speak about how long something happened in the past (e.g. 'I used to live in Singapore for five years' is not correct – a normal past simple is needed here).

Any sentence with 'used + infinitive' can be correctly rewritten in the simple past (though it may be less specific), but not all past simple sentences can be rewritten with 'used + infinitive'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manthan228 on Fri, 19/06/2015 - 04:39

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simple present tense 1) People are prefer to go the cinema Above sentence right for "present tense" If i will remove "were" then sentence will right. But for "simple past tense" below sentence is wrong why below sentence wrong ? 1) People were preferred to go the cinema please help me why above sentence wrong for simple past sentence. Thanks in advance.

Hello manthan228,

'Prefer' is a regular verb which is followed by 'to infinitive', a noun or a gerund. Therefore your sentences should be:

Present

People prefer to go to the cinema.

Past

People preferred to go to the cinema.

There is no need for 'are' or 'were' in these sentences.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok But in this sentence 1) Males were more interested in 3G services. 2) People were preffered or interested to go to the cinema. Why we put "were" in sentence 1 even sentence 1 is right. I do not understand that sentence 1 is right Both sentences used "were" so why sentence 2 is wrong and sentence 1 is right ?

Hello manthan228,

'interest' and 'prefer' work in different ways. 'interest' is both a noun and a verb, and 'interested' is the simple past of the verb 'interest', but it can also function as an adjective. When you see it with the verb 'be', as in 'People were interested in 3G services', it is functioning as an adjective.

'prefer' is only a verb, though 'preferred' can be a verb in the simple past and also an adjective. For the idea in 2, you could say, for example, 'People preferred to go to the cinema' ('preferred' is a verb) or 'People were interested in going to the cinema' ('interested' is an adjective).

I'd suggest you look up both words using the dictionary search box on the lower right side of this page. There you can see more examples of how they are used, which I think might help you understand them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Phan thủy on Fri, 05/06/2015 - 13:57

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Hi teacher, I don't know how we can know when to take "always" in the past simple when used "always" in the present simple? I hope you'll help me know clearly about it. Thanks you very much!

Hi Phan thủy,

I'm not sure what exactly confuses you about the use of 'always' and it's not possible for us to provide long explanations of all possible uses of a word. Perhaps you could post an example sentence which is confusing for you and we'll try to help with that.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ayeshasheikh on Wed, 29/04/2015 - 10:33

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Hello Sir, I wanted to know if someone asks a question in past tense using "did" do we have to answer using did or had? For example, if someone asks "didn't you tell me that you would come to see me?" So is it OK to answer "no, i didn't" ?

Hello ayeshasheikh,

Asking this question with 'didn't' normally indicates that the speaker expects you to answer 'yes', but it is OK to say 'no, I didn't' if that is what you mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by carlos19garciia on Wed, 08/04/2015 - 03:16

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Hi teacher I have a dude with this sentence, which one is correct: - I forgot to invite you -I forgot invited you thank you Carlos

Hi carlos,

The first one is correct. Note that you can often figure out which form is correct by checking verbs in the dictionary - see our searchbox on the lower right.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abdijamo on Thu, 26/02/2015 - 13:47

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hi teacher i have been studying English tenses since last week,it's good well summarized i understand the context of English tenses. here i need little bit advise,Dear teachers i want to know the best edition English grammar books,whether in on-line or had-copy best regard

Hello abdijamo,

I'm afraid that we can't recommend specific titles or websites, but what I can recommend is that you take a look at a variety of books before you purchase one. English grammar is a vast topic, and so most books have a particular focus - it could be on verbs, or typical grammar needed at the intermediate level, etc. If you choose a book that has a focus that matches your needs, you're more likely to find it useful.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kkolina on Sun, 01/02/2015 - 08:06

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Could you help me out with this sentence: We met 10 years ago, when we both had already graduated from college, but (to get) a job yet. I’m not sure what tense form to use for ‘to get’

Hello kkolina,

I'm afraid we do not help users with homework or test questions! You need to think about whether this is something which is in the past and finished (then we would use the past simple) or is still true at the moment of speaking (then we would use the present perfect).

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Clerv on Fri, 02/01/2015 - 19:30

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In the following text, I wonder about the use of the past simple in " if active contrast extravasation >>was>has been

Hello Clerv,

If I've understood this correctly, the MA is done based on the results of a prior CTMA scan. The past simple, present perfect or even the present simple would communicate this idea in this specific context, i.e. a description of normal procedure. The temporal relationship between the two events is characterised slightly differently with each verb form, e.g. the present simple suggests routine more strongly than the others, but the context makes it clear that the scan precedes the MA.

I hope this helps.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MartaL. on Thu, 11/12/2014 - 17:11

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Hello Sir, is this sentence correct? "They didn’t go to Spain this year." I think it's wrong because the time (this year) is not finished yet. In this case I've read that we must use the present perfect. Can you clarify this doubt? Thank you! Marta

Hi Marta,

Yes, while it's true that the present perfect is often used with 'this' + a time period, it is possible to use the past simple. Saying 'They haven't gone to Spain this year' indicates that you are thinking of this year up until now, whereas saying 'They didn't go to Spain this year' indicates that your perspective on this year is that it's finished or nearly finished. For example, on New Year's Eve, the past simple would make more sense, as the year is indeed nearly finished and trips to Spain are no longer possible.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dhruv_r on Tue, 11/11/2014 - 05:36

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Hello sir.. Please tell me the correct sentence from the options provided below :- 1) I didn't expect your reply. 2) I was not expecting your reply. 3) I had not expected your reply. Please tell me if i can use all of the above sentences for the situation or not. If not all of them, then which of these i can use. Thank you :)

Hello dhruv_r,

These sentences are all correctly formed, but it's impossible to say which one is correct without knowing the situation they are to be used in.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xBrandNewGirlx on Sun, 02/11/2014 - 11:21

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Hello dearest teachers :) I have several questions.You gave us an example of Past Simple: ,,I lived abroad for ten years''. As I know,we can also say ,,I have lived abroad for ten years" So,how can I guess which one to use in Tests?? I also have a question about Present Continuous. What's the difference between ,,It's always raining in London" and ,,It always rains in London" and how to realize which one to use? In advance,Thank you. Tamara. x