Forms

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

call >> called; like >> liked; want >> wanted; work >> worked

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

infinitive irregular past
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

 

Use

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 again and again 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 phrases with ago with the past tense:

I met my wife a long time ago.

Questions and negatives

We use did to make questions with the past tense:

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

But look at these questions:

Who discovered penicillin?
Who wrote Don Quixote?

For more on these questions see our question forms page

We use didn’t (did not) to make negatives with the past tense:

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

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Hello. Can I use past for the next case?
> I played football for five years.

I want to say that I played football maybe ten, maybe more years ago. Not the last five years. Somewhere in the past, but totally around five years.

Hello Emaximus,

You can say this sentence but it means something different. 'For' here tells us how long you played football so the sentence tells us that you played football in the past and do not now and that your playing career lasted five years.

I think the best way to express what you want, if I've understood correctly, would be this:

I haven't played football for five years or so.

I used to play football, five years ago or so.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Under the heading 'Questions and Negatives' why is the auxiliary 'did' used in the first four examples, but not in the last two examples? Could you please explain the grammar rules for this difference? Thank you.

Hello JJ53,

This is because those are subject questions. Please see our Question forms and subject/object questions page for an explanation of this. If it's still not clear after you read that page, please don't hesitate to ask us again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Good afternoon!
Would You be so kind to help me with one question?
There's one piece of conversation, it's from the book "Essential English for Foreign Students" by C. E. Eckersley
"...The man couldn't answer for laughing. He laughed until the tears came into his eyes. Then he caught hold of the porter and said:"Did you see those two fellows get into the train and leave me here?"
"Yes, I saw them."
"Well, I was the one who was going to London; they only came here to see me off!"...
"Did you see those two fellows get into the train and leave me here?"This sentence here in the form of question makes me somehow feel confused. Why did the author use here"get"and "leave"? Is it because of "Did"? Can we paraphrase this sentence?
Thank You very much!

Hello alotar,

We often use a bare infinitive form in a clause after a verb of perception. Here, 'did you see' is the verb of perception (others are 'hear', 'watch', etc.) and then 'get' and 'leave' are the bare infinitives in the clause 'those two fellows get into the train and leave me here'.

It's also possible to use an -ing form -- in this case, 'get into' would be 'getting into' and 'leave' would be 'leaving'. The difference is that the bare infinitive form suggests we saw the action from beginning to end, whereas the -ing form focuses on the action as it was happening.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
Sir is it right to say " I graduated last year"? And can we say this in any other way?
And sir please tell me about the tenses using which we can talk about specific times like in present, past and the future.

Thanks in advance

Hello SahilK,

It's perfectly fine to say I graduated last year. You could also say I got my degree last year or I finished university last year.

 

The verb system in English, including various tenses and aspects, is very complicated and not something we can explain in a quick comment! However, we have two grammar sections (here and here) which cover this area in a lot of depth with explanations, examples and practice tasks.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I would like to quote the first part of a passage as below:
"Up until the 1960s, not many British people had flown abroad for their holidays. Although the idea was attractive, flying was still too expensive for most people. The only choice people HAD WAS to go to British resorts. Instead of ...."
I try to explain words "HAD WAS" in above sentence, but I can't. What is its grammar structure or something like that? Please, help me understand it clearly.
Thank you!
Best,
David

Hi davidnh,

Simplifying the sentence helps to make this clear, I think. We can simplify the sentence as follows:

The only choice was to go to British resorts.

 

You can see that the subject here is 'The only choice'. All we need to do now is to add the qualifying phrase:

The only choice people had was to go to British resorts.

 

The sentence has the same structure as before but now the subject is 'The only choice people had'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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