You are here

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
GapFillTyping_MTYzMjI=
Past simple 2
GapFillTyping_MTYzMjM=

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
ReorderingHorizontal_MTYzMjQ=
Past simple questions 2
GapFillTyping_MTYzMjU=

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
GapFillDragAndDrop_MTYzMjY=
Past simple negatives 2
GapFillTyping_MTYzMjc=

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 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?

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Hello Fey,

We form negatives in simple past with the verb do, in the form of did (not). The exception to this is the verb be, which forms questions by inversion in all tenses and not just simple past. You can read more about the verb be here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verb-be

 

Can is a modal verb. These have their own grammar structures. Note that modal verbs do not occur in the infinitive; there is no form with to. You can read more about modal verbs in this section:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/modal-verbs

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"Documentation was sent to guide ".
Is this sentence is correct?

Hello Shanthini,

No, I'm afraid that sentence is not grammatically correct. I'm not sure what you want to say and what the context is, so I don't want to guess what the correct way to phrase it would be.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages