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:

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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

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

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

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

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.
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?
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

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!
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

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

Hello Praveen,

The verb phrase is caught is grammatical, but I think you would probably need an article (a, the) before rabbit. However, without knowing the context it is impossible to be sure.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Praveen,

If the action was performed just a moment ago, so you have the result in your hands or on your table, then the present perfect is the most likely form:

The rabbit has been caught.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Plz. Need your help. Which is correct and why ? It has been raining for 3 days. The farmers were happy to water their fields. OR: It rained for 3 days . The farmers were happy to water their fields.

Hello Ahmed Dawoud,

The correct answer is the second one (rained) as the time period is a finished one, not one continuing into the present.

Please note that we generally from elsewhere such as this which may be from tests or homework. We are happy to explain our own material, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could anyone tell whether these sentences are gramatically correct or not- 1. "She went to the college the other day when she found out that her father's name had been misspelled on her degree" 2. "After she had collected her degree, she found out that her father's name had been misspelled on her degree" Also should i be using has been in the above sentences?

Hello Anubhav,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. In 2, you could change 'had collected' to 'collected' and it would also be correct. In 1, it's a little strange to say 'the other day', which we usually use to talk about a non-specific day in the past, in combination with 'when she found out ...', which speaks about a specific time, but the sentence is not incorrect.

Both sentences refer to a finished past time that has no connection with the present, so the present perfect ('has been') would not be appropriate.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Is this past simple or present simple ‘the cars are exported’. I’m confused because ‘are’ is a form of be and used in the present but ‘ed’ on exported is a past tense marker. Help

Hello Naomi03

In this sentence, 'are exported' is a passive verb in the present simple tense. You're right that the ending '-ed' is a past tense marker, but it also has other meanings and uses -- in this case, for example, it a past participle.

You can find an explanation of all of this on our Active and passive page. If you have any other questions after reading that, please let us know.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Can we say 'We learn at school' or 'We learn in school'? Please explain the difference. Thanks

Hello Sad,

In the UK, at school can mean either of these:

1. being a pupil (She is still at school can mean she is still a pupil)

2. being physically in the place (She is still at school can mean she has not come home yet)

In school generally only has the second meaning.

 

When you want to ask about, for example, what was done during the day, then either can be used:

What did you learn in school today?

What did you learn at school today?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Does it make sense? 'We write at school'? Gives a meaning that we write the word 'at school'! 'At school, we learn to write words' Isn't it a correct structure? Regards

Hello Sad,

There is nothing grammatically wrong with either sentence. I think the most likely way to phrase it would be 'We learn to write at school', but it really depends on the context and to what question the person is responding, if any.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you. It doesn't make sense to me if it's written ' We write at school.', I don't know why? However, the other 2 make sense, but which is stronger, 'At school, we learn to write.' Or 'We learn to write at school.' I mean, as a strong correct sentence structure! Regards

Hello Sad,

Both of these are fine:

At school, we learn to write.

We learn to write at school.

There is no difference in meaning or strength.

 

The sentence 'We write at school' is, as I said, grammatically correct. I think it's very unlikely anyone would say it in conversation but it's possible to think of a context in which it would make sense:

The teacher doesn't give us writing homework. Usually, we have lists of words to learn at home. We write at school.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

why i cannot mention a specific time with present perfect tense or why the time is not important

Hello fdrewaserera,

I'm not sure there is a 'why' to explain this. It's simply a feature of how the verb system words in English. The present perfect has a retrospective meaning: it looks back on the past from now and thus requires an open time reference. It is never used with a completed time reference.

I can say

I've been to Spain. [some time in my life]

I've finished the book. [some time before now]

However, if I add a completed time reference then I need to use a past form:

I went to Spain in 1995.

I finished the book last week.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello fdrewaserera

Could you please give a specific example of what you're asking about?

Thanks.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

hi I want to ask about this sentence : I lived abroad for ten years. Isn't it supposed to say I had lived abroad for ten years or I had been living abroad for ten years thank you

Hello yasiraq,

All of those are correct grammatically. Which one is appropriate in a given context will depend on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team