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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Soumis par Peter M. le sam 02/12/2017 - 08:19

En réponse à par davidinh

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Hi davidnh,

Simplifying the sentence helps to make this clear, I think. We can simplify the sentence as follows:

The only choice was to go to British resorts.

 

You can see that the subject here is 'The only choice'. All we need to do now is to add the qualifying phrase:

The only choice people had was to go to British resorts.

 

The sentence has the same structure as before but now the subject is 'The only choice people had'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmosky le dim 26/11/2017 - 06:05

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Hello teachers, hope you all are good. I have a question in a sentence like "he was saying that we needed to be paid more for our work". Can "that" be ommitted and just say "he was saying we needed to be paid more for our work" thanks

Hello Timmosky,

Yes, you can omit 'that' here. It's quite common to omit it after verbs like 'say' and does not change the meaning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

And also "said" and "told". "That" may also be ommitted e.g "he told me he was sick" and "he said he needed to think". Thanks

Soumis par Timmosky le dim 12/11/2017 - 19:00

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Hello guys it's me again, I know you might have answered me something like this before but I just wanna be sure I'm saying it right. My pastor said "life is what you make it" he only uttered that statement. Now when I'm reporting it at another time can I say: my pastor said life is what you make it, while he was saying this, i was typing on my phone...is this statement right? after using said, I used was saying again being that he just utterd that one statement. Also, is it write to say something like: I sat while they were talking or Is it I was sitting while they were talking. Thanks again I really need clarifications

Hello Timmosky,

I'm not sure I've understood exactly what you're asking, but yes, you can say 'My pastor said life is what you make of it'. You could also use the past ('...said life was what you make of it') but I think 'is' is better here since it's an observation about life in general this also true for the present and future.

By the way, it would be easier to understand your questions if you put the words you are asking about between 'inverted commas' or in bold or italics.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmosky le dim 12/11/2017 - 06:40

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Great work guys I can really say I know how to use they past continuous now. Now I'm moving to past perfect progressive and I've got a question...can an action in past perfect progressive continue like that of past continuous up until a time in the past...for example I had been walking for 5 minutes when I saw two people talking; they were walking as they were talking, I continued walking with them

Hello Timmosky,

Yes, that is precisely how the past perfect continuous works. Like all perfect tenses, it describes an action prior to another time or action and which has some connection to that time or action (causal, for example)

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmosky le ven 10/11/2017 - 09:23

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Thank you Peter and Kirk. Thank you so very much, I think with your explanations, I've started to understand just how the past continuous works. But I have a question. Can I generalize the events happening at a time with past simple and then break it down with past continuous. For example: I ran to the office when I got his call this morning; while I was running though, I was praying he didn't get to the office before I did. Another example: I talked with him yesterday, and when we were talking, Jenny passed by, she was waving to us as she was passing. Are these tenses usable this way I.e past simple to generalize, past continuous to breakdown. Thanks a bunch

Hello Timmosky,

I'm not sure I'd use those terms (generalise and breakdown) but the uses of the forms in your examples are fine. The continuous forms represent actions in progress and the simple describes actions taken as a whole.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmosky le lun 06/11/2017 - 18:36

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Sorry for my bothering questions on past simple and past continuous but I really wanna put all doubts in my mind to rest. I've read about it several times and the way people use them I think is dependent on choice. E.g 1 I was telling her the other day not to provoke her aunt but she wouldnt listen. 2. I told her the other day not to provoke her aunt but she wouldn't listen. These two sentences mean the same thing or is there a particular way of using past continuous because to me it seems you can substitute past simple in many past continuous usages.

Hello Timmosky,

As I said in a previous answer, aspect reflects the prespective of the speaker regarding the action, not the fact of the action itself. In many cases there is a choice and the speaker may choose, for example, to emphasise the repeated nature of an action because it is in some way notable (such as being irritating or impressive that the person is so persistent).

There are uses where only one form makes sense, or where the meaning changes. For example:

I was talking to her when he arrived.

I talked to her when he arrived.

In the first example he arrived during my conversation with her. In the second sentence I begin talking to her only when he arrives.

In your example both forms are possible and there is little difference between them. The continuous form emphasises that it was not merely one comment to her but a process which the speaker may see as ongoing - the speaker's efforts to convince her continued (in his mind) up to the point at which they failed. This may be through multiple conversations or it may be simply that the speaker viewed the issue as incomplete because he intended to return to the topic. The simple form suggests that the speaker sees it as complete: he spoke to her and after that the issue was left to her to decide what to do next. As I said, it is a question of the speaker's perspective on the situation.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par aseel aftab le sam 04/11/2017 - 23:02

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Hi sir I have studied mass communication or I studied mass communication

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 05/11/2017 - 07:14

En réponse à par aseel aftab

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Hi aseel aftab,

This is the same issue (present perfect or past simple) that has already been explained in answers to several previous questions. Please take a look at those answers.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmosky le sam 04/11/2017 - 12:40

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I have a question as regards reporting speeches. A girl told me: "cats are better than dogs because they are cuter". Now I don't believe this but i still want to report what she said. Can I say what she said I.e "cats are better than dogs because they are cuter" and then say I don't believe this or am I meant to report it using the indirect speech i.e you said cats were better than dogs because they were cuter automatically every time I don't believe an idea or expression?

Hello Timmosky,

As I mentioned in my other response to your similar question on another page, I'd say indirect speech is more common, though really you can choose whether to use direct or indirect speech.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par aseel aftab le ven 03/11/2017 - 11:54

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Hello sir! Why we say that floods have resulted in loss of valuable lives. Rather we can say floods resulted in loss of valuable human lives because the action has finished

Hello aseel aftab,

We use the present perfect when there is a result in the present of a past action. If the floods happened very recently and the results are still being felt then 'have resulted' is appropriate. If, however, the floods happened a long time ago and are more historical then 'resulted' would be better.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par aseel aftab le jeu 02/11/2017 - 22:21

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Hi sir! Why we say that he passes away at 98 is it correct to use present tense in a past situation or we should say that he passed away at 98

Soumis par Kirk le ven 03/11/2017 - 08:51

En réponse à par aseel aftab

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Hello aseel aftab,

In most contexts, the past simple would be the best form here. The present simple, however, can be used to speak about the past when we're telling a story or speaking about history.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par aseel aftab le jeu 02/11/2017 - 16:44

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can i say "I went out five minutes ago " or I have gone out five minutes ago"

Hello aseel aftab,

The present perfect isn't used with 'ago'. This is because the present perfect speaks about an unspecified past time and 'five minutes ago' specifies a past time. Therefore 'I went out five minutes ago' is the correct choice here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par sirmee le lun 04/09/2017 - 21:54

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Hi Sir, as for the grammar rule, I am uncertain if I should use remind or reminded in the sentence below. ‪Question: Whenever I saw an ML350, it remind or reminded me of my very favorite uncle. My uncle is late. He used an Ml350. Someone passed-by with the car and I wanted to express how I feel on twitter.

Hello sirmee,

This depends on whether the sentence is still true or not:

Whenever I saw an ML350, it reminded me of my very favorite uncle.

This sentence refers to the past. You may be talking about your childhood, for example, or your memory may have faded, or you may no longer see ML350s for some reason.

 

Whenever I see an ML350, it reminds me of my very favorite uncle.

This refers to the present; it is still true.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Mr Peter for the clear and concise explanation. I used the past form instead of the present. Our neighbor bought the car, whenever he pass by, he reminds me of my uncle. So the whole thing is still happening except for my uncle

Soumis par asr09 le ven 01/09/2017 - 18:00

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Good evening sir, Which sentence is correct as per tense rule? 1) if it is definite time in the past, we should use simple past. [as per the rule which sentence is correct] A)The rain was late by four hours. or B)The train is late by four hours.

Hello asr09,

If you are describing a particular situation in the past then the first sentence is correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The 2nd sentence denotes the future in simple present .[The train is late by four hours]

Hello asr09,

This sentence describes the present rather than the past. You would say it, for example, if you are waiting for a train due at 15.00 and the time is now 19.00.

To talk about the future we would say 'will be' rather than 'is':

It's almost 7.00 now! Another ten minutes and the train will be late by four hours!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par jau20 le mer 30/08/2017 - 09:19

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Hello. I don't understand why they use past simple instead of present perfect un this sentence : "who wrote DON QUIXOTE ?". DON QUIXOTE is still written. It is unfinished state , i think

Hello jau20,

I think you are confusing the state of being written (which is true of the book now) with the act of writing the book (which ended in 1605/1615 as far as we know).

The act of writing the book was completed long ago; it is now finished and Cervantes is not still writing it. For completed actions in the past we use the past simple, not the present perfect.

You would use the present perfect for actions which are still unfinished. For example, you might say:

Don Quixote has been loved for generations. [it is still loved today]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Aamer Sultan le dim 06/08/2017 - 17:31

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It is not desirable to replicate all the changes here, as the scope of this paper is only to analyze the impact of these amendments. Section 8 of the Act, is substituted and in section 8(a) of the Act, maximum fifteen days adjournment has been provided for summoning of the defendant. Similarly, to curtail the delay, now simultaneous mode of service including registered envelop along with acknowledgement due, courier, affixation and publication in newspaper has been introduced. i am confused about use of has been and is. please guaid

Soumis par Aamer Sultan le dim 06/08/2017 - 17:05

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in one paragraph can we change from past to preseny

Soumis par Sousse-k le mer 05/07/2017 - 13:44

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Hello, I've question about this sentence (It's about a translation I did) "Here is the files, I also did some changes in the second one to harmonize both. In both files I tried to reduce the text size because I guessed that the content is for a smartphone game. So maybe that why the tester found some "simplistic" translation." So my question is : Do i use the pass simple correctly ? Because in this context when I say "I also did some changes" the changes are already done and the action is finished, however, could it be possible to use the present perfect as this changes are now discussed, might be not definitive and will be soon reviewed by the receiver ? More precisely what I wanna know if in this sentence is : The action is finished, but I'm describing what I did to have a present reaction, so past simple ? Best regards

Hello Sousse-k,

Yes, you could use the present perfect instead of the past simple here, since you could view the past action of changing the files as still affecting the present moment. For example, perhaps you've just made the changes (mote that we make changes (rather than 'do changes')) and are sending them off immediately afterwards. But the past simple is also fine.

Hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Slava B le mar 04/07/2017 - 09:12

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Thanks a lot Kirk, as always, your Team gives very instructive comments !

Soumis par Slava B le dim 02/07/2017 - 14:23

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Thanks a lot Peter,and one little clarification in the end: so then it turns out that the definite article(the) is the ONLY sign here (without knowledge of context) which indicates that the bribery took place only once,and if it weren't any articles at all then it would be impossible to say definitely whether once or repeatedly it happened, have I understood it right?

Hello Slava B,

As I see it, in terms of the grammar, you are right -- there is no other clear sign. But in terms of meaning, the phrase 'and ended up in jail' leads one to think that it was a single occurrence. This is because the phrase suggests a consequence of taking the bribe, and if the official had taken the bribe repeatedly and ended up in jail repeatedly, it would suggest a rather unusual situation. It's certainly possible (due to stubborness, light jail sentences, etc.), but seems unlikely.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Slava B le dim 02/07/2017 - 00:21

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Hello Team! Example: 'The official took the bribe money and ended up in jail ' Is it possible to understand without context from this case whether the fact of bribery took place only once ('something that happened once in the past'),or it happened many times by turns as it were ('something that happened again and again in the past'). If this sentence can be understood one way only (under what rule?),then what would another option ( once/again &again) look like? Thanks in advance

Hello Slava B,

I would say that the definite article here ('the money') tells us that we are talking about a particular bribe rather than money in general. That would suggest one bribe. If the sentence described an ongoing/repeated action then no article would be more likely.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Omyhong le jeu 22/06/2017 - 08:37

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Hi, sir. It is stated in this section that we use simple past to talk about something that happened again and again in the past. So can we use 'every day' in a simple past sentence? Such as the sentences. below, Soon, they became friends. Every day, the boy helped Lina to cut wood. Thank you sir

Hello Omyhong,

Yes, you can use 'every day' like that -- your sentence is correct. Well done!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Slava B le mer 21/06/2017 - 10:45

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Hello, I have just reread my message and see my possible mistakes,but nevertheless I am waiting for your comments )

Soumis par Slava B le mar 20/06/2017 - 21:35

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Hello LETeam! Which way of expressing is more correct in the following situation: (prehistory of situation) - I begin to brush teeth and in one second i realize that i have taken hand cream instead of tooth paste by mistake. Then in two minutes I ,full of emotions,meet my friend and say to him what have happened : 1. Listen, I almost brushed my teeth with hand cream just now! 2. Listen,I have almost brushed my teeth with hand cream now! Question: Which is better or more correcr here,i mean Past simple(1) or Present perfect(2),if only I have used them correctly? As I see it both Tenses are correct,but it depends on how thе situation looks like "from outside" or is progressing in reality...,i.e. if Present perfect is possible here then under what rule do we use it? And another thing: do "just now"(ex.1) and "now"(ex.2) fit in rightly with the sentences and tenses? And the last question (sorry for several ones at a time !) : Is my description of the sisituation "I begin to brush teeth and in one second i realize that i have taken hand cream instead of tooth paste by mistake. Then in two minutes I ,full of emotions,meet my friend and say to him what have happened " is correct in terms of Sequence of tenses, and is it possible to use Present simple and Present perfect tenses the way I have done it, i.e can a storyteller use Perfect tenses when meaning past events? If my "description" is not correct,could you please put it right? If you answer I will be indebted to you forever ))

Hello Slava B,

The correct form here is past simple because the action is complete/finished. You stopped yourself and so the brushing is entirely in the past, with no present result. You might use the present perfect if you use a verb which has a clear present result:

I have just stopped brushing... / I have just stopped myself brushing...

 

I hope that's helpful. I'm afraid we don't provide corrections of writing. It is possible to use a range of tenses, including perfect tenses, in stories such as this. The key is whether the action is finished (takes place in a finished time frame) or not and has a present result or not.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Quynh Nhu le mar 20/06/2017 - 04:18

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Hello team, I've just encountered this sentence this morning: "I didn't know you smoked". The situation here is the speaker realises her friend smoke. Because her friend still smokes at the present time so I think it must be "I didn't know you smoke". And is it different with "I don't know you smoke"? Can you explain it for me? Thanks in advance.

Hello Quynh Nhu,

Both 'smokes' and 'smoked' are fine here. If you say 'smokes' then it must be true that the person still smokes. If you say 'smoked' then you could be talking about something which was true when you found out but is no longer true now (they stopped smoking at some point) or something which is still true. The difference is perhaps clearer with a different example:

 

I didn't know you were a teacher. [you were a teacher at that time and may or may not be still a teacher]

I didn't know you are a teacher. [you were a teacher at that time and you still are a teacher now]

 

You can read more about the use of various verb forms on these pages:

reporting and summarising

reporting verbs and different clauses

reported speech 1

reported speech 2

reporting questions

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ilma Hasan le sam 03/06/2017 - 12:55

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Hi Sir, It would be better to keep listening system for corrections.