Past simple

Learn how to use the past simple to talk about the past, and do the exercises to practise using it.

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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Hi Rikimaru,

Yes to all your questions :) But let me just add that further explanation about whether (a) or (b) is intended may not necessarily be given by the speaker. It depends on whether or not this subtle difference is important to the speakers and conversation, and what level of detail they require. In many cases, I would imagine that, since (a) and (b) mean something very similar, the general meaning (i.e., she played tennis a lot) is sufficient for the conversation.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 16:50

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Hi! Firstly, this article talks about the Simple Past Tense, correct? Secondly, the title of this article says "Past Simple", however, the article then goes on to say "We use the past tense to talk about..". Does this mean that the "Past Simple Tense" can also be referred to simply as the "Past Tense" (i.e. we can drop the term "simple") and it still means the same thing?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 04:50

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Timothy555,

Yes, that's right! Past simple and Simple past are the same thing. Both names are commonly used in learning materials and by teachers.

Yes, it's also common to refer to the past simple as the past tense. (Technically speaking, English has only two tenses: present and past. Other perfect or continuous forms that we sometimes call 'tenses' are more properly called aspects.)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Turki123456 on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 21:58

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I really.......my cat.I was so sad when he died 1-love 2-loved Pablo Picasso........an Italian painter who died in 1929 1-is 2-was And can you explain why?

Hello Turki123456,

Both of your sentences are about the past. We know this because there are past tense verbs in each (died). Thus, the correct form is the past simple in each case: loved and was.

Of course, sometimes people still feel love after someone dies, but the convention is to place it in the past.

You can also sometimes hear people use a present form when defining something from history, using it with the sense 'Pablo Picasso is the name of a painter who died in...' In other words, the present is really referring to the name or title rather than the person.

By the way, Picasso was Spanish, not Italian.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Islamkamrul on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 13:16

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Can anybody help me to write a story about Feeling under the weather – (I am sick ) must have to use past simple and past continuous tense. Thanks
It must have been COVID-19 depression... thought I. It took away my freedom putting me in an isolation, which had a depressing influence on me. But when I looked at two sides of a coin, it was not necessarily bad. Actually I was fed up with crazy mass tourism and excessive commercialism and wanted someone to stop it! Surprisingly enough, it happened. I think we are heading off in a new direction and in a transition period at the moment. How exciting it is!! That’s why I got out of feeling under the weather... ;)

Submitted by Timothy555 on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 13:20

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Hi, If l list a series of actions in the simple past, for example: "On Sunday my brother and I went to a nice lake. There we met our friends. We swam in the warm water and played volleyball in the afternoon. Too bad that we had to go home in the evening. We didn't want to go to school on Monday." Does it mean, by default, that the actions described above using the simple past tense all happened one after another? Regards, Tim
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 16/09/2020 - 14:47

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Timothy555,

Yes, in general, such a list of actions is understood as a narrative, i.e. a sequence of actions. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, "a sequence of actions" means the actions/events occured chronologically/sequentially (i.e. following the order in which they occurred)?

Submitted by Abdul Azeez Ibrahim on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 14:22

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How can we use Past Simple without a specific time reference in the past? I am really confused,as i have come across some native speakers using Past simple without time reference in the past, Please help me to clear this doubt. Thanks in Advance

Hello Abdul Azeez Ibrahim,

It's very common for the past simple to be used without a specific time reference and it is perfectly correct to do so. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Piglet on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 20:32

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Hi, I came across this sentence "The hike was one of the best hikes I've ever done." Correct me if I am wrong, I am guessing "was", was used, because the hike was an event of the past. Would it be correct to say "The hike IS one of the best hikes I've ever done.", to mean that at present / right now / currently, you find this hike one of the best hikes you have ever done? And say 5 years down the road, you will have gone for many more fulfilling hikes, and so this current hike will no longer be seen as one of the best. Then you use the sentence "The hike was one of the best hikes I've ever done." to mean that at some point in the past, you did see it as one of the best hikes, but you no longer feel so. Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 07:20

In reply to by Piglet

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Hi Piglet,

Both present and past can be used here and both mean the same as the present perfect (I've ever done) makes it clear that you are referring to the whole of your life up to the present.

 

If you want to show that the statement is no longer true then you need to use a past perfect: That hike was the best I had ever done.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kennyMcCormik300 on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 07:13

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What's the difference between 'I have lived here for 20 years' and 'I lived here for 20 years'?
Hello kennyMcCormik300 'I have lived here for 20 years' = You still live in the same place now. (We use the present perfect for actions that started in the past but continue to the present moment.) 'I lived here for 20 years' = You lived in that place in the past. That time is finished and now you live in a different place. (We use the past simple for actions that finished in the past.) Hope that helps. Best wishes Jo LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 10:38

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Hello what tense are these I had a car- past perfect/ simple past I have a car I bought a CD that had a famous singer's songs
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 13:31

In reply to by Samin

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Hi Samin,

Here are the tenses of those sentences:

  1. past simple (had)
  2. present simple (have)
  3. past simple (bought / had).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rajeshvr on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 18:14

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Hi, Would you give the difference in meaning and its (grammatical) usage of "Before and Ago", please! Thank you.

Hi rajeshvr,

Ago is an adverb. It tells us the distance in time from the present moment to another event. When you use ago you need to include a time reference, which can be a number or a description:

It happened 3 years ago.

He died a long time ago.

I saw her not long ago.

 

Before is a flexible word. It can be a preposition, a conjunction or an adverb. When it describes location rather than time it can also be an adjective. We use before to say that an event happened earlier in time than another. Whereas ago relates an action to the present, before simply relates one action to another.. With before we do not have to specify the length of time we are talking about, though we may:

I saw her before you.

I read the book before I watched the film.

I heard of him a long time before I met him.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reema on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 08:51

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Hello Please I found in tutorial website that the past simple in negative and yes or no questions form would take infinitive without to ( the question is that I don't know why ???since We can say for instance I didn't want "to" bring something from the market and still that is supposed to be past simple form!!!) So that is shat one of important tutorial websites said for reference: -We make the negative form with didn’t (did not) + infinitive without ‘to’. I didn’t like working in a bank. -Past simple yes/no questions are made from did + subject + infinitive without ‘to’. Did you like living in Japan?  
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 14:36

In reply to by Reema

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Hello Reema,

I'm afraid I can't comment on an explanation that I haven't seen. I expect that what the website meant was that the negative form of 'I wanted' is 'I didn't want' (not 'I didn't to want').

If you have any doubts, please refer to the explanation on this page -- it is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 15:02

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Hi, you mentioned that "We use the Past Tense to talk about...something that happened once in the past...something that happened several times in the past" Firstly, to be specific, you mean to say "the simple past tense" instead of just "Past Tense" right? because "Past Tense" can refer to "Past simple tense, Past continuous tense, Past perfect tense or Past perfect continuous tense". Secondly, out of all the four past tenses (as mentioned above), is it a case where the simple past tense is also known or referred to widely as just the "Past Tense" (that is when a person simply says "the past tense", and assuming no other unique background/context that suggests anything else, we may assume that the person is referring to the simple past tense)?

Hello magnuslin,

As the Past tense page explains, in this grammar's view, there are only two tenses in English -- present and past -- though each has several different forms. On this (Past simple) page, only the past simple is discussed.

I wouldn't assume that someone who says 'past tense' definitely means 'past simple'.

By the way, if you're interested, you can read more about the idea that English has only two tenses in the Wikipedia, where it's explained a bit more.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team 

Hi Kirk, Actually it is because the title of this article is "Simple Past" and yet the article goes on to say "We use the Past Tense to talk about...something that happened once in the past...something that happened several times in the past", which was what led me to ask whether by the term "Past Tense", are you referring to the Simple Past in this article? And if so, is it then a case where out of all the four past tenses (e.g. Simple past, past perfect, past continuous and past perfect continuous), only the Simple Past is colloquially referred to most often as just The Past Tense?
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Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 12/07/2020 - 15:18

In reply to by Rikimaru

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Hello Guan Lin,

Yes, this article refers to the past simple (also known as 'simple past').

As far as I know, 'the past tense' can refer to any of the four forms you mention, but I'm not completely sure what the author of this page meant. I'm sorry -- I can't make anything other than guesses about his intentions here.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ali mohamedali on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 15:21

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excuse me, please can i know the different between,(did) and( was and were), they are both in the past can i know the different. and thanks

Hello ali mohamedali,

'did' is the past simple form of the verb 'do' and 'was' and 'were' are the past simple forms of the verb 'be'.

Both of these verbs are used in many, many different ways. Both of them can be the main verb in a sentence, e.g. 'I did my homework' and 'I was tired after work'.

They can also be auxiliary verbs. For example, 'did' is used to form the negative of a past simple verb: 'I didn't eat lunch today' ('didn't' is the auxiliary verb and 'eat' is the main verb).

Does that help? If you have another specific question, please feel free to ask again.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

thanks for you answer, but they are both in the bast when ican use was and were,ir did , and thanks

Hello again ali mohamedali,

I'm not sure I understand your question. We use 'was' after singular nouns and the pronouns 'I', 'he', 'she' and 'it'. We use 'were' after plural nouns and the pronouns 'you', 'we', and 'they'. For example, 'I was very tired after the match, but my friends were not.'

You can use 'did' after any noun or pronoun, for example, 'I did my homework but they did the laundry.'

I hope this helps you.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Dawoud on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 16:11

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Hi Which is correct and why? I have bought two books but I haven't read " either / both " of them. either or both ?! Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 18:48

In reply to by Ahmed Dawoud

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Hello Ahmed Dawoud

'I haven't read either of them yet' is the correct form. When the meaning is negative, we use 'either of' instead of 'both of'.

Best wishes

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rikimaru on Mon, 08/06/2020 - 06:49

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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.
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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sun, 31/05/2020 - 10:24

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

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 16:51

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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?

Submitted by Charneet kaur on Mon, 11/05/2020 - 04:19

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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?
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 11/05/2020 - 06:59

In reply to by Charneet kaur

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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

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 17:29

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Hi! I read somewhere that says that the simple past tense is also known as the "past indefinite" tense. I am just curious why this is so, considering that the simple past tense is used to describe an action that began and ended at a definite or specific time in the past, hence to call it "past indefinite" seems odd. For your advice, pls. Thanks! Regards, Tim
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 14:27

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Tim

We don't use this terminology on LearnEnglish, but if you'd like to read more about it, I'm sure you can find some information by doing an internet search for 'indefinite aspect' or 'indefinite tenses'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 09:39

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Hello, My understanding of the simple past is that it is used to explain that an action began and ended in the past at either a definite point in time (for shorter actions) or over a finished duration in the past (for longer action), and that in either case, a time expression/time clause usually accompanies the simple past tense to show the time when the action took place (such as last week (for definite point or moment in time, or "when i was a child" as a time clause indicating a longer past duration). Is this understanding correct? Furthermore, I am interested to know if it is grammatically correct to use the simple past tense without any time expression (e.g. I went to the cinema. I loved her). In this case, I am simply indicating that these events began and concluded (i.e. occurred or happened) at some point in the past, and while i do have a time period in mind, I simply did not say it. Is this grammatical? Many thanks in advance! Regards, Tim
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 14:21

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Tim

Your understanding is mostly correct, but I wouldn't say it's true that a time expression usually accompanies a past simple verb. That is sometimes the case, but it is in no way required. Often the context will make the time period clear, but not always, and there is nothing wrong with that.

A past simple verb simply expresses that the action is entirely in the past -- as you say, it began and ended in the past.

Actually, a past simple verb can express other ideas (e.g. unreal present events, as in a second conditional), but I don't think that's what you're asking about here.

Best wishes

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 15:10

In reply to by Kirk

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Hi Kirk, ok so this means that the simple past tense can (a) be used without any time expression, and (b) often the context will make the time period clear and hence no need for a time expression to be used with the simple past tense verb, and (c) even if the context does not make the time period clear, plus when there is no time expression, we can still use the simple past tense just to mean that something (e.g. an action or state) began and ended in the past. Are the above three points correct? Thanks!

Submitted by Fey on Sun, 26/04/2020 - 20:24

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Do we only use the verb to do to make negative sentences for simple past? What about the verb to can or the verb to be?