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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Hi. In this sentence: Did she play tennis when she was younger? Can i wrote this way: Did she played tennis when she was younger? Thanks in advance.

Hello Ricardo,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi I'm raising a quick question in between past simple and past continuous tenses, and looking for advice. Two expressions for same case, which one has been used the most? Is the second one inappropriate? 1. I jogged for 30 minutes every day before, but now I don't. 2. I was jogging for 30 minutes every day before, but now I don't. thank you to help me out Sophie

Hi 1004sufei,

As you suggest, both of these forms are grammatically possible. I would say that the first (jogged) is the more common. The continuous form (was jogging) cna be used to emphasise the repeated nature of an activity, but here that is already made clear by the time reference (every day) and so is superfluous.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter and further from that, as I saw 3 sentences have been quoted as examples of past continuous- for something that was happening again and again: I was practising every day, three times a day. They were meeting secretly after school. They were always quarrelling. all with time references. do you think they are all superfluous because of existing time references? then these 3 sentences would have no existing value while simple past would be just fine. I was thinking the continuous tense is used when you like to emphasize the time lasting about some types of verb, like jogging for 30 minutes, quarrelling, meeting and practising. thank you for further advice Sophie

Hello 1004sufei,

The sentences would all be fine in the past simple. However, continuous forms often suggest that the action was temporary or interrupted in some way and this may be important to the speaker.

The decision a speaker makes with regard to verb form is often dependent on the speaker's intention and perspective. Very often multiple choices are possible. Looking at very forms without paying attention to the context and the speaker's intention/perspective means that we are not seeing the whole story, as it were.

I think our section on the continuous aspect might be helpful for you. You can find it here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

There is an example for past simple tense: They didn’t go to Spain this year. I think that "this" means that a year is still not finished so present perfect should be used in the sentence. Why past simple was used here ?

Hello sikimiki,

That's very perceptive of you! The sentence is correct because whether we use the present perfect or past simple depends on how we perceive the event. In this case, for example, imagine that the people we are talking about always go to Spain for the Valentine's Day (February 14), but this year they didn't go. Since we are now in early March and the time that we expected them to go has passed, the past simple is the tense that makes the most sense. But we are still in 2017, so we still say 'this year'.

You could also say 'They haven't gone', and that would be fine. It focuses a bit more on the fact that the year is not over. Using the past simple puts more emphasis on the time they could have gone to Spain as a past time.

I hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Can you give me some help with the well known bible verse John 3:16; I'm pretty sure it's simple past but seems complicated because it holds present and future aspects. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Hello Ted,

'loved' and 'gave' are past simple forms, but 'believeth' (which nowadays is 'believes') and 'have' are present simple forms. 'should not perish' is an older way of saying 'will not die'. In a more modern style, the idea is that God loved the world so much that he sacrificed his only son so that anyone who believed in him would find paradise.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir, in the case of one example above, can i say ' they always enjoy visiting visiting friends' instead of 'they always enjoyed visiting visiting friends'? the latter has no past time marker

Hello jacader,

You can say 'They always enjoy visiting friends', which uses a present simple instead of a past simple ('enjoyed') form of the verb, i.e. both are correct. Repeating the word 'visiting', however, is not correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team 

I want to express what the previous and current government said about corruption. PDP is the previous and apc is the current. 1) PDP said stealing isn't corruption 2) apc said padding isn't corruption. Should the word said be in simple past or present? Thank you

Hello sirmee,

Both 'said' and 'says' are possible here. If you say 'said' then you are talking about a claim in the past which may or may not still be the opinion of the speaker. If you say 'say' then you are talking about a view which the speaker still definitely holds.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I came across this post on twitter. The user posted a video and wrote the following. "I accidently came across this video clip and I'm leaving this here to watch you." My question is came is in the past form while the action is still present at the moment he posted the tweet. Can you please explain

Hello sirmee,

I'm afraid we can't comment on random internet comments! People write all sorts of things and often they are not perfect users of English. That sentence contains errors so to use it as a model for learning or trying to understand grammatical rules is not a good idea.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, (1) Since my father joined this post , he has not taken bribe. (2) Since my father joined this post , he did not take bribe. (3) Since my father has joined this post , he did not take bribe. (Which one is correct and rule for the correct sentence)

Hello Tapan100,

The first sentence is correct.

'Join' is an action which is immediate and which does not take place over a period of time, so a past tense is appropriate for the first clause. The action in the second clause describes behaviour over a period of time from the past up to the present, and so the present perfect is required.

It would be possible to use the present perfect in the first clause if the action takes place over a period of time to the present, but a different verb from 'join' is needed:

Since my father has been a member of..., he has not taken a bribe.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir/Madam, Somehow I can't drag the verbs to the gaps. Could someone advise what can be wrong? Mant thanks! Sincerely yours Wenjie

Hello tangpd,

To move the items click once on the word (but do not hold the click) and then click where you want to put it. There is no need to hold and drag; just click.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

1. Someone has broken the vase. 2. Someone broke the vase last week. The first phrase refers to Present perfect tense and the second to past simple, right? How can i know the different?

Hello Quezia Damaris Vasconcelos,

This is very similar to your question on another page, which I have answered. THe present perfect here tells us something which is still relevant and current. For example, we would say the first sentence when this information is still new - maybe we have just dicovered this, or the vase is still lying on the floor. The second sentence describes a completed event which is no longer current.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Please help with these frases: 1. I spent all my childhood in France. 2. I have spent all my childhood in France. Witch one is correct and why? I know is about the Present Perfect tense but it has to do with the past to.

Hello Quezia Damaris Vasconcelos,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. The difference is that in the first sentence the speaker's childhood is finished whereas in the second sentence the speaker is still a child and their childhood will continue.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

we use past form of the verbs in past simple . does the PAST FORM of the verbs have other uses except- be, have, do i wrote can WROTE be used by another way ?

Hello pyramid,

These kinds of open-ended, general questions can be difficult to answer, as there may be uncommon cases that we don't think of. In general, though, I'd say no, there are no other uses. For future questions like this one, please check the Wikipedia or other sources, as this is not really the kind of issue we work with here on LearnEnglish.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! why we say: I lived abroad for ten years. When we can say: I have lived abroad for ten years??? Its that correct? Do they have the same meaning? or He enjoyed being a student, Instead of He enjoys being a student?

Hello erjola,

There is a difference in meaning between these two sentences.

I lived abroad for ten years - I do not live abroad any more; it is a finished action.

I have lived abroad for ten years - I still live abroad now; this action started in the past and is not finished.

Similarly, 'enjoyed' means that the action is finished and is in the past, while 'enjoys' means that it is something that is true now.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish Team, The above examples: Did she play tennis when she was younger? I didn’t see you yesterday. Shouldn't we use the past form of the verbs 'play' and 'see' - played and saw. Kind regards, Sujit

Hello Sujit,

We use the past forms in affirmative sentences:

She played tennis when she was younger.

I saw you yesterday.

 

However, when we form negatives and questions we use the past form of an auxiliary verb ('did') and the base form of the verb. The auxiliary verb carries the past form, not the main verb:

Did she play tennis when she was younger?

Did I see you yesterday?

She didn't play tennis when she was younger.

I didn’t see you yesterday.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, The following text is an extract from Charles Dickens' short story 'The Magic Fish Bone' : "You are right," said the old lady, answering his thoughts, "I am the Good Fairy Grandmarina. Listen. When you return home to dinner, invite the princess Alicia to have some of the salmon you bought just now. " I just wanted to know if we can use the adverb 'now' with the past tense as it's been used in the above ( quoted ) text. To me it looks weird. Thank you in advance.

Hello prapsahu,

The phrase 'just now' means 'just a moment ago' and actually refers to the (very recent past) rather than the present. That is why it is fine to use with 'bought' here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I have a question about sth really stupid.. For example, I'm in a disco club and I hear a song.If I say "I liked this song", does it mean that I liked the song when I heard it but I don't like it anymore or I liked the song and I still like it. What have I to say?: "I like this song" or "I liked this song" When my give me a present what I have to say?? "This is the present I wanted" or "this is the present I want"

Hello tulin,

In the disco you should say 'I like this song' because, presumably, you still like it. If you used to like it but no longer do then you could say 'liked'. For example, you might say 'I liked this song when I was a kid'.

With the present, you should say 'wanted' because once you have it you no longer want it in the same way. You might want to keep it, but you no longer want to get it as you already have it.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I always found some examples being used the past tense from dictionary or conversational English book. But I don't know why the examples like the following are always in the past tense? Do they really mean the actions are at the past? or something else? eg. I was suspicious of his motives. eg. I was wondering if you could water our plants. eg. I was wondering what the next station is.

Hello hahalulu,

It's not really possible for me to say how the past tense is being used in each sentence without knowing the context, but, for example, in the second and third sentences, it could be indicating a past action or it could be used as a polite form. Sometimes to 'soften' a request, people use the past tense, which is less direct and therefore considered more polite. This is similar to the way you can ask for permission using 'can' (present tense - 'Can I open the window?') or 'could' (past tense - 'Could I open the window?') – the form with 'could' is a little more polite.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Since the below sentence is about past tense. Is it correct if i put the new sentence in the bracket? They didn’t go to Spain this year. (They didn't went to Spain this year). Replace "go" with "went" We didn’t get home until very late last night. (We didn't got home until very late last night) Replace "get" with "got" I didn’t see you yesterday. (I didn't saw you yesterday). Replace "see" with "saw". Please correct me. Thank you.

Hello marcus,

What you suggest is logical, but it is not correct. It might help to think of the auxiliary verb 'did' (in 'didn't') as the word that tells you the tense, and then of course the base forms ('go', 'get' and 'see') tell you the action. But if you find this idea confusing, please ignore it! 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

which is the correct answer? and why? I paid her one dollar, When she answered my question. I was paying her one dollar, When she was answering my question. I was taking a bath when the telephone was ringing. I took a bath when the telephone rang.

Hello malikhd,

I'm afraid we can't tell you which one is correct, because each sentence describes the actions slightly differently. For example, the first sentence is general, just describing what you did when she answered the question but not focusing on exactly which action started first. In the second sentence, the same situation is described but with a focus on the moment, i.e. that you were paying at the same time that she was answering.

I'd suggest you take a look at our talking about the past page, which explains how the different past tenses are used. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, can I put 'just' in the past tense? I want to emphasize action that 'just happened' but the other action is happening. Is it correct sentences ? I was sleeping when my friend just came. or can I write this present perfect: My friend has just came when I am sleeping. If this stucture is not well please corrected. Thanks.

Hello Happy's papa,

You can certainly use 'just' with the past simple tense, but I think what you want to say is something like 'My friend came just a moment ago, when I was sleeping'. Does that sound right to you?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Can you think of any exceptions to the following 'rules'? The past simple form of the verb is used to describe finished events or states.

Hello lxndra,

Every verb form in English can be used in more than one way, and the past simple certainly can – under the category Use (above) you can see four of these uses and if you browse this English Grammar section more, you'll see other uses as well.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

sir, i have a doubt whether bellow mentioned sentence correct or wrong " didn't you come to school"
Thank you very much for helping us, Sir. It will help a lot to us. I would like to ask what is difference of these following sentences and also check if it is correct or incorrect: 1. We never do anything wrong 2. We never did anything wrong 3. We will never do anything wrong 4. We haven't done anything wrong 5. We had not done anything wrong 6. We will have done anything wrong 7. We are not doing anything wrong 8. We weren't doing anything wrong 9. We will not be doing anything wrong 10. We haven't been doing anything wrong 11. We hadn't been doing anything wrong 12. We will haven't been doing anything wrong

Hello j.Lux16,

I'm afraid we can't answer questions like this! You're asking for a very long and detailed explanation of multiple points of grammar - essentially an individual lesson here. In the comments section our role is to help with questions relating to material on the page. When time allows, we try to deal with other questions too but we can't provide individual lessons for our users, I'm afraid.

Your questions are all about verb forms - time, tense and aspect. You can use our grammar section on verbs to research these forms and I'm sure that will help. Then, if you have any specific questions about particular examples we'll be happy to try to help.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team