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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Submitted by sarasameer on Sat, 06/11/2021 - 18:52

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Is had lost past simple? if not, then what is it?
And can I use it when talking about something recently lost?
Thank you

Hello sarasameer,

The form 'had lost' is an example of the past perfect. We use this to describe an action in the past before another action or time in the past. In other words, it describes 'past before past'. The two past actions should also have some connection: the earlier one causes or influences the later one in some way.

You can read more about the past perfect and practise it on these pages:

> the perfect aspect:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/perfect-aspect

> talking about the past
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/talking-about-t…

> the past perfect
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-i…

> the past perfect
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/past-perfect

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rikimaru on Sun, 22/08/2021 - 06:29

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Hi, I note that the Simple Past Tense can be used to talk about something that happened (once or several times) in the past. Does "something" refer to an action or event, and happened means the action/event started and ended in the past? Also, since Simple Past Tense can be used for something that happened several times in the past, does "several times in the past" mean this "something" (i.e. an action/event) started and ended several times (i.e. repeatedly) in the past?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/08/2021 - 07:44

In reply to by Rikimaru

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Hi Rikimaru,

The past simple is used for completed/finished actions in the past. For example:

I read this book last week. [I finished it]

I read this book four times last year. It's my favourite! [I finished it four separate times]

I went to school in the 1990s. [I don't go to school now]

 

However, there are a couple of things to remember. The first is that the action may have consequences which are ongoing even if the action is complete:

He was born in 1933. [Being born is complete but he may still be alive]

 

The second thing to remember is that a state may not be finished but the speaker may only be interested in talking about a particular part of it which is in the past, or may choose to divide the time in to discrete chunks. For example:

I was a teacher in 1993 and in 1994 and in 1995 – in fact, I'm still a teacher now! [The speaker treats 1993/4/5 as separate and distinct periods of time in the past]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, So quoting your example, "I read this book four times last year. It's my favourite! [I finished it four separate times]", for instance, this means that the action of reading started and ended four times last year?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 29/08/2021 - 09:15

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Tim,

Yes, that's correct. The speaker would have to really like the book!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can I use "everyday" in past tense?? For example, can I say he went to school everyday or I met him everyday. Is that correct?or I have to change "everyday" into yesterday or any thing like that.

Hi marwah,

Yes :) You can use it with the past tense. But, it should be "every day" (two words). The single word "everyday" is an adjective (e.g., an everyday activity).

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rikimaru on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 02:18

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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

When you say "The simple past shows that the action took place in the past", do you mean the simple past shows that the action started and ended in the past (i.e. took place in the past = started and ended in the past)?

Hello Rikimaru,

Yes, that's right. The results of the action may persist or not, but the action itself was begun and completed in the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In addition, simple past tense can be used regardless whether (a) the action/event happened recently (i.e. it does not matter how long ago the event is: it can be a few minutes or seconds in the past, or millions of years in the past), or (b) the action/event happened a long time ago, correct?

This means that regardless if its scenario (a) - simple past for events that happened recently, or (b) simple past for events that took place a long time ago, for both such scenarios, stating when the actions/events took place (i.e., by adding a time reference) is optional?

Hi Rikimaru,

Yes, that's right. At this point I think it's worth pointing out that we should look at the context (including the rest of the conversation) in which the past simple verb is used, as that will probably indicate which timeframe is relevant. For example, if I am telling somebody about dinosaurs, it is clear that I am talking about millions of years ago, even if I don't mention any time reference. So, yes - the time reference is optional with the past simple.

Best wishes,
Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sat, 15/05/2021 - 12:30

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

Submitted by frodo123 on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 14:35

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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

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 23:58

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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 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

Hello Tim,

Obviously I'm not Jonathan, but I'm confident that you've correctly understood what Jonathan meant.

We use the past simple with stative verbs and non-stative verbs to talk about past states or actions.

All the best,

Kirk

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,

Another query I have is when you say "She played a lot of tennis every weekend when she was younger" - this refers to a past repeated action (i.e. a habit) correct?

In addition, if I were to omit the "every weekend", can I take it that the sentence (i.e. just "She played a lot of tennis when she was younger") may be interpreted to mean either (a) a past repeated action (i.e. a habit), or (b) a general action over a longer period of time (i.e. a state/truth), and that because such a sentence can mean either (a) or (b), further explanation from the speaker/writer, or perhaps the context, will indicate whether the speaker/writer intended to express meaning (a) or meaning (b). Am I right?

Thanks

Hi Rikimaru,

Yes to all your questions :) But let me just add that further explanation about whether (a) or (b) is intended may not necessarily be given by the speaker. It depends on whether or not this subtle difference is important to the speakers and conversation, and what level of detail they require. In many cases, I would imagine that, since (a) and (b) mean something very similar, the general meaning (i.e., she played tennis a lot) is sufficient for the conversation.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 16:50

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Hi! Firstly, this article talks about the Simple Past Tense, correct? Secondly, the title of this article says "Past Simple", however, the article then goes on to say "We use the past tense to talk about..". Does this mean that the "Past Simple Tense" can also be referred to simply as the "Past Tense" (i.e. we can drop the term "simple") and it still means the same thing?

Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 04:50

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Timothy555,

Yes, that's right! Past simple and Simple past are the same thing. Both names are commonly used in learning materials and by teachers.

Yes, it's also common to refer to the past simple as the past tense. (Technically speaking, English has only two tenses: present and past. Other perfect or continuous forms that we sometimes call 'tenses' are more properly called aspects.)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Turki123456 on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 21:58

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I really.......my cat.I was so sad when he died 1-love 2-loved Pablo Picasso........an Italian painter who died in 1929 1-is 2-was And can you explain why?

Hello Turki123456,

Both of your sentences are about the past. We know this because there are past tense verbs in each (died). Thus, the correct form is the past simple in each case: loved and was.

Of course, sometimes people still feel love after someone dies, but the convention is to place it in the past.

You can also sometimes hear people use a present form when defining something from history, using it with the sense 'Pablo Picasso is the name of a painter who died in...' In other words, the present is really referring to the name or title rather than the person.

By the way, Picasso was Spanish, not Italian.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Islamkamrul on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 13:16

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Can anybody help me to write a story about Feeling under the weather – (I am sick ) must have to use past simple and past continuous tense. Thanks
It must have been COVID-19 depression... thought I. It took away my freedom putting me in an isolation, which had a depressing influence on me. But when I looked at two sides of a coin, it was not necessarily bad. Actually I was fed up with crazy mass tourism and excessive commercialism and wanted someone to stop it! Surprisingly enough, it happened. I think we are heading off in a new direction and in a transition period at the moment. How exciting it is!! That’s why I got out of feeling under the weather... ;)

Submitted by Timothy555 on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 13:20

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Hi, If l list a series of actions in the simple past, for example: "On Sunday my brother and I went to a nice lake. There we met our friends. We swam in the warm water and played volleyball in the afternoon. Too bad that we had to go home in the evening. We didn't want to go to school on Monday." Does it mean, by default, that the actions described above using the simple past tense all happened one after another? Regards, Tim

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 16/09/2020 - 14:47

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Timothy555,

Yes, in general, such a list of actions is understood as a narrative, i.e. a sequence of actions. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdul Azeez Ibrahim on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 14:22

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How can we use Past Simple without a specific time reference in the past? I am really confused,as i have come across some native speakers using Past simple without time reference in the past, Please help me to clear this doubt. Thanks in Advance

Hello Abdul Azeez Ibrahim,

It's very common for the past simple to be used without a specific time reference and it is perfectly correct to do so. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Piglet on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 20:32

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Hi, I came across this sentence "The hike was one of the best hikes I've ever done." Correct me if I am wrong, I am guessing "was", was used, because the hike was an event of the past. Would it be correct to say "The hike IS one of the best hikes I've ever done.", to mean that at present / right now / currently, you find this hike one of the best hikes you have ever done? And say 5 years down the road, you will have gone for many more fulfilling hikes, and so this current hike will no longer be seen as one of the best. Then you use the sentence "The hike was one of the best hikes I've ever done." to mean that at some point in the past, you did see it as one of the best hikes, but you no longer feel so. Thank you.

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 07:20

In reply to by Piglet

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Hi Piglet,

Both present and past can be used here and both mean the same as the present perfect (I've ever done) makes it clear that you are referring to the whole of your life up to the present.

 

If you want to show that the statement is no longer true then you need to use a past perfect: That hike was the best I had ever done.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kennyMcCormik300 on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 07:13

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What's the difference between 'I have lived here for 20 years' and 'I lived here for 20 years'?
Hello kennyMcCormik300 'I have lived here for 20 years' = You still live in the same place now. (We use the present perfect for actions that started in the past but continue to the present moment.) 'I lived here for 20 years' = You lived in that place in the past. That time is finished and now you live in a different place. (We use the past simple for actions that finished in the past.) Hope that helps. Best wishes Jo LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 10:38

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Hello what tense are these I had a car- past perfect/ simple past I have a car I bought a CD that had a famous singer's songs

Submitted by Jonathan R on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 13:31

In reply to by Samin

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Hi Samin,

Here are the tenses of those sentences:

  1. past simple (had)
  2. present simple (have)
  3. past simple (bought / had).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rajeshvr on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 18:14

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Hi, Would you give the difference in meaning and its (grammatical) usage of "Before and Ago", please! Thank you.

Hi rajeshvr,

Ago is an adverb. It tells us the distance in time from the present moment to another event. When you use ago you need to include a time reference, which can be a number or a description:

It happened 3 years ago.

He died a long time ago.

I saw her not long ago.

 

Before is a flexible word. It can be a preposition, a conjunction or an adverb. When it describes location rather than time it can also be an adjective. We use before to say that an event happened earlier in time than another. Whereas ago relates an action to the present, before simply relates one action to another.. With before we do not have to specify the length of time we are talking about, though we may:

I saw her before you.

I read the book before I watched the film.

I heard of him a long time before I met him.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reema on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 08:51

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Hello Please I found in tutorial website that the past simple in negative and yes or no questions form would take infinitive without to ( the question is that I don't know why ???since We can say for instance I didn't want "to" bring something from the market and still that is supposed to be past simple form!!!) So that is shat one of important tutorial websites said for reference: -We make the negative form with didn’t (did not) + infinitive without ‘to’. I didn’t like working in a bank. -Past simple yes/no questions are made from did + subject + infinitive without ‘to’. Did you like living in Japan?  

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 14:36

In reply to by Reema

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Hello Reema,

I'm afraid I can't comment on an explanation that I haven't seen. I expect that what the website meant was that the negative form of 'I wanted' is 'I didn't want' (not 'I didn't to want').

If you have any doubts, please refer to the explanation on this page -- it is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 15:02

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Hi, you mentioned that "We use the Past Tense to talk about...something that happened once in the past...something that happened several times in the past" Firstly, to be specific, you mean to say "the simple past tense" instead of just "Past Tense" right? because "Past Tense" can refer to "Past simple tense, Past continuous tense, Past perfect tense or Past perfect continuous tense". Secondly, out of all the four past tenses (as mentioned above), is it a case where the simple past tense is also known or referred to widely as just the "Past Tense" (that is when a person simply says "the past tense", and assuming no other unique background/context that suggests anything else, we may assume that the person is referring to the simple past tense)?

Hello magnuslin,

As the Past tense page explains, in this grammar's view, there are only two tenses in English -- present and past -- though each has several different forms. On this (Past simple) page, only the past simple is discussed.

I wouldn't assume that someone who says 'past tense' definitely means 'past simple'.

By the way, if you're interested, you can read more about the idea that English has only two tenses in the Wikipedia, where it's explained a bit more.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team 

Hi Kirk, Actually it is because the title of this article is "Simple Past" and yet the article goes on to say "We use the Past Tense to talk about...something that happened once in the past...something that happened several times in the past", which was what led me to ask whether by the term "Past Tense", are you referring to the Simple Past in this article? And if so, is it then a case where out of all the four past tenses (e.g. Simple past, past perfect, past continuous and past perfect continuous), only the Simple Past is colloquially referred to most often as just The Past Tense?

Hello Guan Lin,

Yes, this article refers to the past simple (also known as 'simple past').

As far as I know, 'the past tense' can refer to any of the four forms you mention, but I'm not completely sure what the author of this page meant. I'm sorry -- I can't make anything other than guesses about his intentions here.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ali mohamedali on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 15:21

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excuse me, please can i know the different between,(did) and( was and were), they are both in the past can i know the different. and thanks