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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:

Comments

Hi, I wish to know if it is true that the simple past tense can be used (in speech or writing) without any time references and time adverbs/time adverbials?

For example, can I write/say "I washed the car" to mean that my washing of the car happened (i.e. started and ended in the past) without including any specific time references/adverbials like "last night" or "last week" etc? So in other words, whether it be "I washed the car" (i.e. use of simple past tense without any time reference) or "I washed the car last night/last week etc" (use of simple past tense with time references), both sentences are grammatical and make sense?

Hi Rikimaru,

Yes, that's right. The simple past shows that the action took place in the past, but stating when it took place (i.e., by adding a time reference) is optional.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I worked hard today and became lazy after that. ;)

please help i (visit)lots of interesnig places

Hello frodo123,

'visit' is a regular verb; its past simple form is 'visited'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

this article lists a few uses of the simple past tense, two of which are "something that happened several times in the past" with example - "When I was a boy, I walked a mile to school every day", and "something that was true for some time in the past" - with example being "She played a lot of tennis when she was younger".

Is there any difference between these two uses? sounds the same to me. Thks.

Hi Timothy555,

It's a good question! They are similar, but there is a difference.

For the meaning of something that was true for some time in the past, we don't think of it as divisible into individual, repeated actions. The other examples show this more clearly: I lived abroad for ten years. / He enjoyed being a student. In these examples, we understand 'lived' and 'enjoyed' as long-lasting actions, rather than individual and repeated.


So, how about the tennis example? We can understand She played a lot of tennis as a general action over a longer period of time, just like 'lived' and 'enjoyed' in the other examples, without the more detailed sense of it consisting of repeated individual actions. A speaker might intend this meaning if there's no particular need in the conversation to emphasise the repeatedness of the action or its frequency.

 

But it's true that we can also understand the tennis example as the first meaning you mentioned, something that happened several times in the past - i.e. a repeated individual action: she played match after match, week after week (for example). We could add the frequency to support this intended meaning:

 

  • She played a lot of tennis every weekend when she was younger.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, ok, I think I get what you mean. "She played a lot of tennis when she was younger" obviously means that even though this lady's action of playing tennis when she was younger must have occurred repeatedly (something that happened several times in the past - i.e. a repeated individual action) when she was younger, since we know that she could not have possibly played tennis all the time when she was younger to the point of ignoring other things like eating/sleeping, we are now simply choosing to think of this lady's action as a long general action or state (that is, we are simply choosing to focus on this lady's action of playing tennis as a factual truth or state that lasted for sometime in the past). May I know if I've understood you correctly?

Hi Timothy555,

Yes, that's right :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for your reply. Just to verify two things about your answer. Firstly, you mentioned "A speaker might intend this meaning", by "this meaning", you are referring to the idea of a general action occurring over a longer period of time?

Secondly, you also mentioned "we understand 'lived' and 'enjoyed' as long-lasting actions". Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't verbs like "live" and "enjoy" state or stative verbs? If so, why call them "long lasting actions" when such verbs are not dynamic (i.e. action) verbs?

Regards,
Tim

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