Past simple

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:

Average
Average: 4.1 (166 votes)

Submitted by davidezizza on Fri, 01/12/2023 - 15:18

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Hello!

About the use of the Past Simple, I wanted to relate a recent finding of mine on the Internet. I have read in an online newspaper the expression "It's time" followed by the subject and then the verb in present simple. At the best of my knowledge, I remember that the English grammar reports it's time+past simple or it's time + infinitive or it's time for+subject+infinitive.
I was wondering whether it was a mistake or a particular context I didn't pay attention to.
Thank you.

Hi davidezizza,

Thanks for your question! Can you let us know the specific example that you found? That will be easier for us to discuss. 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello davidezizza,

Thanks for sharing the context.

I've checked three different grammars and they all say exactly what you explain in your first comment, i.e. that an infinitive or the past simple is used after 'It's time'. Presumably this is because we mean that we think the action should already have happened, i.e. in this case that Europe is overdue in paying attention to Libya.

I'm afraid I can't explain why this particular journal used the present simple here. It could be that it's a more international version of English, where perhaps it is acceptable. If I were asked to edit the text, I would suggest using the past simple.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,

thank you very much for your answer.
Apart from the chance about a probable international version, your explanation totally removed my doubts about the heading and I'm grateful for this.
Very kind of you.
Best regards
Davide

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Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 21/11/2023 - 00:34

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Hello,

Could you please help? I received this message from my colleague:

I'd like to share my experience with id 0129934. She was placed under my supervision. However, I saw that her skills have a lot of room for improvement. We have discussed the situation with her and she chose to stick with the General course.

1. I was a bit puzzled when I read the first sentence. I've always thought that 'share my experience with somebody' means that you want to give some information to that person.

As I understand, the noun 'experience' is usually used with 'in', 'with' or 'of':
- experience in dealing with such clients or experience in this industry;
- experience with different systems;
- experience of this kind of work.

When we use the verb 'share' before the noun 'experience' the options are:
- share my experience with you - I want you to know something I know;
- share with you my experience of something or share my experience of something with you - I want you to know something I know + some information about the experience;
- share my experience of - a good option if it's clear from the context whom the sharing is going to happen with;
- share your experience in the comment section down below - just an example with 'in'.

In my colleague's email I would probably use 'share my experience of working with id 0129934' or 'share my experience of mentoring id 0129934', since it's clear that she wants to share this story with me.

​Are my examples correct?
Would one of the variants with 'experience of' work better in the first sentence of my colleague's email?

2. I think that the sequence of tenses is incorrect:
We have discussed the situation with her and she chose to stick with the general course.

They discussed/had discussed (the outcome had some relevance in the past), and then she chose (based on their discussion).

I don't see how 'have discussed' might have any relevance in the present moment.

Possible variants:
- We discussed, and she chose - sounds simpler and better than the rest
- We had discussed, and she chose
- We discussed, and she has chosen (her choice is still with her now; she is still taking that course)

Are these combinations possible?
Which one would you use?

Thank you.

Hello Tony_M,

(1) The original sentence is OK but it is a little clumsy because of the verb 'share'.

As you say, multiple prepositions are possible after 'experience'. For people, experience with is quite common and would be fine if the verb were not 'share'. The reason is that we also say share with, so you have a choice of using two withs, which is unfortunate in terms of style, or using one with and leaving some ambiguity as to the meaning. This problem disappears if other verbs are used:

I'd like to tell you about my experience with 0129934

I'd like to say a few words about my experience with 0129934

I'd like detail my experience with 0129934

etc

Your suggestions are better in the sense that they don't have this problem, but since the following sentences from your colleague make the situation clear I don't think it's a major problem.

 

(2) I agree that there is an inconsistency here. Presumably the first verb is in the present perfect as the information is perceived as news to you, but if this is true then the second verb is surely also news to you and so both verbs should be in the present perfect. I don't see any reason to use the past perfect here but the past simple is fine:

We discussed... she chose... [a sequence in the past]

We have discussed... she has chosen... [actions with present relevance - given the context this would seem to be optimal]

We discussed... she has chosen [the discussion was in the past and then after some time she made a decision which is news to you/a present and current change]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Thank you for your detailed and clear explanation. It was very helpful and understandable.

Why is Past Perfect overkill?

Hello Tony_M,

I hope you don't mind me stepping in here. I just noticed that it's been awhile since you asked your question and Peter hasn't been able to answer.

The past perfect would be overkill here because the earlier past time it would imply wouldn't make much sense in this situation. For example, I would understand it to suggest that the discussion happened earlier than the speaker's observation of id 0129934's skills. As I understand it (perhaps I've missed something?), the discussion happened precisely due to the insufficient skills.

Does that make sense?

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk, 

Thank you.
It does make sense.

Could we use the past perfect for the first event in this sequence (was placed)? Or is it not a good idea unless we have some signal words like 'before', 'after', or 'by the time'?

Hello Tony_M,

Just to make it clear, you're asking if the following works or not:

I'd like to share my experience with id 0129934. She had been placed under my supervision. However, I saw that her skills have a lot of room for improvement. We have discussed the situation with her and she chose to stick with the General course.

Perhaps in some very particular situation, it could work, but off the top of my head I can't think of one. The use of the present simple and present perfect later on are incongruous with a past perfect as far as I can tell.

To use a past perfect here, you'd have to shift the tenses in the following sentences towards the past. Even then, unless there's a particular reason to emphasize that her placement occurred before some other past point in time (which isn't mentioned in these sentences but perhaps was mentioned before), I wouldn't recommend it. This is because it would probably make the listener wonder what that other past time reference was; if there was no other past point in time that was relevant, it could be confusing.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,

You've understood me correctly. The explanation you've provided is excellent. It's shed a lot of light on the topic for me.

Thank you very much.

Profile picture for user Asala Mohammed

Submitted by Asala Mohammed on Mon, 25/09/2023 - 17:01

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Dear teachers,
In advanced thank you for helping us, I have an enquiry, in the question1, (What happened at school today?)
Why didn't you use did in the question? And when should I use this form of question that is without did?
Best regards
Asala Mohammed

Hi Asala Mohammed,

This is a type of question called a subject question. These questions ask about the person or thing that did the action. They use the same word order as a normal sentence (Wh- question word + verb), without an auxiliary verb. For example:

  • Who wrote that book?
  • What caused the problem?
  • Which player scored the goal?

In the questions above, the wh- word is the subject of the verb. This may be easier to see if you compare it with the answer, e.g. Charles Dickens wrote that book. ("Charles Dickens" = subject). Who wrote that book? ("Who" = subject).

These are different from other questions, where the wh- word is the object of the verb. These questions need "did" (or another auxiliary verb). For example:

  • What did you think about the book? ("What" = object, "you" = subject)

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Fri, 16/06/2023 - 02:18

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Hello again, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with the following:

Which one (if any) is correct (I got the TV set yesterday and I still have it):

1. From yesterday, I have this TV set.

2. From yesterday, I have had this TV set.

It's hard to convey how grateful I am for your help and thank you for answering this comment beforehand!

Hello howtosay_,

The correct verb form here is 'have had'. You are describing a situation which began in the past and continues into the present, so the present perfect is appropriate.

'Yesterday' is a point in time rather than a period of time, so we would use 'since' rather than 'for'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Tue, 13/06/2023 - 08:54

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with the following:

So, I was late and rushed to catch the bus. Right after that, when I am on the bus, I have to say:

1. I was late, that's why I rushed to catch the bus. (As that very actions are finished)

2. I've been late, that's why I have rushed to catch the bus. (Now I am on the bus)

3. I was late, that's why I have rushed to catch the bus. (Because I have rushed to catch the bus, I am on it now).

I'm so much grateful for your help and thank you for answering my question beforehand!!!

Hello howtosay_,

The most natural thing to say here is 1 because the state of being late and the action of rushing are both finished now that you are on the bus. I imagine you being out of breath but probably happy to have caught it :-).

2 is incorrect because now that you are on the bus, you aren't late; if you used the present perfect, it would suggest you are still late. I suppose it's possible that you are still running late for your final destination, but if that's the case, you should say 'I'm late' or 'I'm running late' instead of 'I was late' since it is still true.

3 is unnatural because you've already finished the rushing to catch the bus. It could perhaps be used in some very particular situation (but I can't think of one). I'd recommend you regard it as incorrect too.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello, Kirk!

Yes, that does make sense. That's very helpful, as usual.

And yes, I was happy to catch the bus. =)

Thank you so much for your help, which is very important to me!

Submitted by AboodKh9 on Sat, 27/05/2023 - 19:48

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Hello team!
I have a question about using "when" with simple past.
Can I use "when" with simple past in the two clauses:
When I entered the room, my brother watched the movie.
Do the two clauses happened at the same time or one clause happened before the other one?

Thank you in advance

Hello AbooodKh9,

Generally, 'when' in this kind of context indicates the moment that an action begins. For example:

She made a cup of coffee when I arrived - this means that the coffee making began only when I arrived.

When we want to show that an action was in progress at the time of another event, we use when or while with the past continuous:

She was making a cup of coffee when I arrived - this means that the coffee making began before I arrived and that she was in the middle of it.

 

 

Thus, I would say there are two possibilities for your example:

When I entered the room, my brother started to watch the movie - he began only once I was there.

When I entered the room, my brother was watching the movie - he was in the middle of it at the time I arrived.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by KH_M_K on Fri, 26/05/2023 - 04:22

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Hello
Which sentence is correct?
1- After the plane had landed, we collected our luggage.
2- After the plane landed, we collected our luggage.

Hi KH_M_K,

They are both correct! Sentence 1 uses the past perfect, but people often simplify by just using the past simple. This happens especially if the order that the actions happened is already shown in some other way. Here, the word "after" shows this, as well as the order of mentioning the actions in the sentence (the first action is mentioned first, and the second action is mentioned second).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AboodKh9 on Sat, 04/03/2023 - 19:06

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Hello everyone! I just want to ask a question about "when"
Can I use any tense after when? I know that we can use it before(present simple and past simple) but I want to know If we can use it before the other tenses.

For example:
1) When I had arrived, I met my friend. OR When I had arrived, I had met my friend.
2) When I have studied English, I found many job opportunities. OR When I have studied English, I have found many job opportunities.
And so on...

Thank you in advance.

Hello AboodKh9,

1) When I arrived is correct here. We could use the past perfect (had arrived) with 'once' or 'after', not 'when'.

 

2) I'm not sure what you mean here. When I studied (not have studied)... I found (not have found) is correct in this context. You could use the present perfect to talk about repeated experiences, however, with the sense 'every time' or 'whenever'.

For example: I've visited Germany many times in my life and when (whenever/every time) I've been there, I've found the people to be very kind.

 

You can find a useful summary here:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/when

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for your response.
But here I am asking in general (not just about the examples I typed above) about using "when as a conjunction" before the 12 tenses in English.
For example:

When + present perfect
When + present perfect continuous
When + past perfect
When + past perfect continuous
When + simple future
...etc

I will be grateful for you
Excuse me if I didn't get it very well.

Hello AboodKh9,

There is no general rule here - it really depends on the context and what the speaker wants to say. While some forms are unusual (will after when is very unusual, for example), they are not impossible. All of these, for example, are correct:

When I've finished, I'll come and help you.

When I've been working on this, I've generally found a small team better than a large one.

She had been talking when he had been talking, and that's why hadn't understood each other.

etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi yyyyyyyy7,

Are you asking about this sentence?

When I have studied English, I found many job opportunities.

Have studied is the present perfect (not the past perfect, which would be had studied). The sentence is showing two things happening together and at the same time, so they should be in the same tense as each other. The sentence above is not correct, but these two sentences are.

When I studied English, I found many job opportunities. (past simple)

When I have studied English, I have found many job opportunities.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

When I arrived is correct here. We could use the past perfect (had arrived) with 'once' or 'after', not 'when'.

Why we can not use when with past perfect? And we dont use past perfect here?

Hi yyyyyyyy7,

Actually, we can use the past perfect with "when", e.g. When I'd finished studying, I went to sleep.

Peter's comment above is saying that the past perfect cannot be used here, in that particular sentence. It should be the past simple because the apparent meaning of using "when" is that the first action (arrived) leads into the second action (met my friend). In comparison, using the past perfect would make the two actions seem more separated and less connected (like finished studying and went to sleep in my example above). If the two actions really are separate, then using "once" or "after" + past perfect instead of "when" would make that meaning clearer.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

I have several questions be I would be very grateful if you answer.
1) does it mean that when we talk about things which are connected than we use past simple in both clauses? And does it mean that we use past perfect for things which are not connected as in your example?
2) where I can find materials to learn all these details according to tenses? I understood that using of tenses require to pay attention on these details.

Hi yyyyyyyy7,

“When” + past simple action 1 + past simple action 2 shows actions that are connected in the sense that action 1 leads smoothly into action 2. Action 2 follows very shortly after action 1. The focus of the sentence is on both actions.

  • When I closed my eyes, I fell asleep.
  • I picked up the phone when it rang.

 

“When” + past perfect action 1 + past simple action 2 emphasises the completeness of action 1 before action 2 happened. Although the two actions may also be connected in the sense of having a cause-effect relationship, using the past perfect for action 1 makes it seem further back in time from action 2 (the past simple action), and like a preliminary stage to action 2, with action 2 (the past simple action) being the main focus of the sentence. As noted above, “once” and “after” are synonyms for “when” here.

  • When the cat had gone away, the mouse came out.
  • I folded the clothes when they’d dried.

 

Of course, how connected actions are is subjective, so sometimes both structures are possible, depending on the speaker’s intended meaning.

  • When the cat went away, the mouse came out. (one action follows soon after the other)
  • When the cat had gone away, the mouse came out. (emphasises the completeness of the first action, before the second one happened)

 

I’m afraid I can’t really recommend particular learning materials to learn more about this grammar point, but I suggest having a look for advanced-level grammar books since this is quite a specific point and it may not be covered in general textbooks. Best of luck!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello, I have one more question. Your example above about phone remind me another example. Here you have used past simple: I picked up the phone when it rang. I have come across to another example: I couldn’t answer when my phone rang as I was in the shower. Why in both sentences are used past simple instead of past continuous?

Hi yyyyyyyy7,

The past continuous (was ringing) is also possible in both sentences. Using the past continuous emphasises the duration of the activity, i.e. the fact that the ringing went on for some time. You may say this if your aim is to describe what was happening at that particular moment that you picked up the phone.

Using the past simple presents the actions in a step-by-step way: one thing happened, then another thing. You may say this if you are telling a story, for example, as it's common to use the past simple to tell the main sequence of story events.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Do studying English and finding job opportunities mean that they are happening at the same time? Doesn’t mean that after he had studied English he found new job opportunities?

Hi yyyyyyyy7,

The original commenter's sentence has an unclear meaning. It may show actions happening at the same time, or one after the other. Both of these meanings make sense. Yes, it is also possible that the person studied English first, and then found new opportunities after that, as you say. But in that case, the earlier action should either be in the past simple or the past perfect. For greater clarity, I would also recommend using "Once" or "After" instead of "When", to show that the actions happen one after the other. However, the original sentence seemed to me to indicate two actions happening at the same time because of the use of the present perfect with "when", which has the meaning of "every time" or "whenever".

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Gulnara_BC on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 08:38

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Hello!
Could you please clarify the use of Past Simple in this sentence: 'The project was started maybe a year ago'. Is it acceptable to use Present Perfect here meaning that the project is still ongoing, or Past Simple is referred to just one completed past action -- started? Or it's better to rephrase the whole sentence -- 'It's been a year since the project has (been) started'? Is it acceptable or are there any exceptions for using 'ago' with Present Perfect? The main emphasis is that the project is not finished yet.
Thank you in advance!

Hello Gulnara_BC,

The present perfect is not correct in either of these sentences. 'a year ago' suggests a past time that isn't closely connected with the present and so the past simple is the best choice here.

There may exist some situations where it's possible to use the present perfect with 'ago', but I can't think of one off the top of my head.

The past simple does not imply that the project is finished. The action of starting is an action that we generally think of as taking a relatively short time, and then of course the project can continue for an indefinite length.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 26/09/2022 - 05:01

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Hello Team. Is there any difference between "How long ago" and "When" to ask about past events? For example, in the following question, which one is correct? Why?
- (How long ago - When) did you start studying English?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

'how long ago' asks for a specific kind of answer, i.e. an expression with 'ago', whereas 'when' is a bit more general.

In practice, though, the person who answers is free to answer as they wish. In other words, they could just as easily say 'when I was ten years old' or 'last summer' or 'ten years ago' in response to 'how long ago' as 'when'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that's right: both of those formulations are correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Thu, 01/09/2022 - 04:23

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Hi Jonathan,
Thanks so much for your prompt reply.
So, in informal speaking, we could ask questions such as:
- How's the film yesterday?
- Why's he angry last night?
- What's he doing when you called him?
- When's the next train arrive?
- What's it mean?
- How's he look?

[1] Is this kind of contraction also used by educated people in daily conversations?

[2] Could we use this kind of contraction ('s) of "was" and "does" in daily communication with our coworkers or boss?

Your remarks would be highly appreciated.

Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

[1] Yes, if they are in informal situations. I don't think the education level is relevant here.

[2] Potentially, yes, but I can't really say more than that. It depends on the expectations about formality, clarity and interpersonal communication that people in your particular workplace have.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 31/08/2022 - 09:29

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Hi Jonathan,
Merriam Webster's online dictionary cites that the past tense "was" can also be contracted to ('s).
E.g. : When's the last time you ate?
[1] Can we use the contraction in general or it's only used in the fixed phrase of "When's the last time......?"

The dictionary also cites that ('s) is also the contraction of "does".
E.g. : What's he want ?
[2] Can we use this contraction in general with other question words (where, why, who, how) as well ?

Hi melvinthio,

You can find these contractions in other sentences too, not just these ones. However, it's important to know that these contractions are normally used (1) in informal speaking, and (2) in questions. Because of their use in informal speaking, some people may consider them incorrect. It's also good to be aware of the potential for confusion (e.g. "What's" might be initially understood as "What is" or "What has").

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 16:58

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Hi
In this following sentence "I took care that he should not hear me "
Does here "he should not hear me " refer to past ?Can we use "should" in past tense?What about if we use "would not" instead of "should not" here ?

Hi Faii,

Yes, it does. (If referring to the future, "shall" can replace "should".) In this sentence, "would" and "should" have the same meaning but "should" is a bit more formal in style.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sandy Nguyen on Sun, 17/04/2022 - 09:55

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Hi
To know about someone's food hobby we ask What's your favourite food?
if someone ask me " What was your favourite food?" , is it different from
"What is your favourite food?"