Past simple

Learn how to use the past simple to talk about the past, and do the exercises to practise using it.

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 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

Soumis par SahilK le lun 08/01/2018 - 19:56

Permalien
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
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 09/01/2018 - 08:08

En réponse à par SahilK

Permalien

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

Soumis par Grace_C le lun 24/08/2015 - 13:12

Permalien
Dear sir, "How DID this even happen?" that applied here is it similar with "Where DID you go?" To apply DID for only past tense? And why "HAPPEN" instead of "HAPPENED"? Thank you and hear from you soon.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Soumis par Peter M. le lun 24/08/2015 - 22:37

En réponse à par Grace_C

Permalien

Hello Grace_C,

In this sentence 'did' is the auxiliary verb used to form a question in the past tense. In questions, the auxiliary carries the tense information; the main verb is in the base form, not a past form, for example. Thus, 'happen' is correct and not 'happened'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team