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 Scarlettleg on Thu, 29/08/2019 - 12:28

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Hello, I was reading a book until I saw the sentence “I have to have fallen into the arms of the murderous Ghazis”. I don’t understand the grammatical structure of this sentence. Thank you for your time!

Hello Scarlettleg,

Could you check to see if you have quoted the sentence accurately, please? I think I recognise this from a Sherlock Holmes story, but I think you may have misquoted it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Widescreen on Wed, 28/08/2019 - 09:26

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Hi Kirk, could you please clarify which tense is correct for this sentence? “ no one knows exactly how the planets come/ came/ had come/ have come into being”. Thank you

Hello Widescreen,

The correct form is 'came', because 'came into being' is a completed act (words such as 'survive', 'live' or 'endure' would describe ongoing actions).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AfnanAlAhmad on Sat, 10/08/2019 - 19:16

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Thank you for your explanation, I have a question: Is the past simple should be in a specific time ? like " last week, yesterday ..etc " thank you

Hello AfnanAlAhmad

Yes, with time expressions that refer to a completed past time (for example, 'last week', 'yesterday', 'five minutes ago', '10,000 years ago', 'last year') we use the past simple.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sad1974 on Tue, 18/06/2019 - 08:20

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Hi. One question please. Can I say 'Does your child speak English in home'? If yes, why 'at' is not used here? Thanks.

Hello Sad1974

'at home' is the correct way to say this, not 'in home'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by luna fernanda on Sun, 02/06/2019 - 21:05

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I am satisfied with the page

Submitted by patph0510 on Fri, 23/11/2018 - 13:04

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Dear Sir, I would like to ask a question about the usage of simple past tense. When we talk about a past event/what a person did in the past, and the relevant background information is still true now, should we use simple present or simple past? Eg 1: the terrorist attack last Sunday was/is disgraceful. Eg 2: The defendant was/is a taxi driver. He was convicted of careless driving 6 months ago.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 24/11/2018 - 08:23

In reply to by patph0510

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Hello patph0510,

I think the past simple is the most likely choice here, and we would only use the present tense if we wanted to emphasise that we consider it to be still a current event in some way.

For example:

The existence of slavery in the US was a national disgrace. [past as slavery existed in the past]

The existence of slavery in the US is a national disgrace. [present because the speaker wants to emphasise that the disgrace remains even though slavery ended]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply! Am I correct to say that even if the defendant is still a taxi driver, we would use past tense to emphasize the fact that he was a taxi driver when the accident took place? Thanks

Hello patph0510,

If the person is still a taxi driver then both past and present could be used. I think a newspaper describing an ongoing or very recent trial would probably use the present; someone describing a trial long ago would use the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bakh.sh85 on Fri, 19/10/2018 - 18:46

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Hello Sir Which answer for the following question is correct? When I met him, he (type) the report. _ When I met him, he was typing the report. _ When I met him, he had typed the report. Can both "tenses" be used with the word "when"? Regards

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 20/10/2018 - 07:40

In reply to by bakh.sh85

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Hello bakh.sh85,

Both of those sentences are possible, as are many others (he typed, he was going to type, he had been typing etc). Without any context, it is not possible to say which form is preferable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by p t balagopal on Thu, 18/10/2018 - 15:06

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Sir, I came across the following sentence in a grammar book . "John has become engaged ; it took us completely by surprise." I would like to know whether we can use 'have taken' instead of 'took' in the second clause. Is there any rule regarding this ?

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 19/10/2018 - 08:28

In reply to by p t balagopal

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Hello p t balagopal,

It would be possible to use 'has taken' here but it would depend upon the context.

The phrase 'become engaged' does not sound particularly natural to me, however. We would be more likely to say 'get engaged'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by seelan65 on Thu, 18/10/2018 - 10:36

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Dear Sir Please clarify whether the example in the past simple usage - We went to Spain for our holidays is correct or should be 'We went to Spain for our holiday' Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 19/10/2018 - 08:13

In reply to by seelan65

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Hello seelan65,

Both forms are possible here, but there is a difference in meaning.

The phrase 'for our holidays' can mean the time we have free (some weeks in the summer, for example) or it can mean a particular vacation or trip.

The phrase 'for our holiday' means a particular trip.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by seelan65 on Fri, 19/10/2018 - 10:37

In reply to by seelan65

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Thanks Peter M for your explanation

Submitted by Vivian888999 on Wed, 12/09/2018 - 14:46

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We use “Did...+infinitive” to form question in the past. In what situations I use “were” to form question? For example: what was the wealther like yesterday? Why cannot said like What did the wealther like yesterday? Or Were you alone? And Did you alone? What is different between those sentences.

Hello Vivian888999,

When the main verb in the sentence is a form of 'be' then we invert the verb and subject to form a question:

He is a teacher > Is he a teacher?

You are alone > Are you alone?

 

When the main verb is not 'be' we use the auxiliary verb 'do' in the appropriate form before the subject and the base form of the main verb:

She lives in London > Where does she live?

They watched the film at the cinema > Did they watch the film at the cinema?

 

When the verb has two parts, we invert the subject and the first auxiliary verb:

You have lived here for ten years > Have you lived here for ten years?

The class will be going to Paris next week > Will the class be going to Paris next week?

 

You can read more about question forms on this page and this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdel El on Fri, 22/06/2018 - 15:31

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hello is it right to say i have been to spain this year?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 23/06/2018 - 07:22

In reply to by Abdel El

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Hello Abdel El,

Yes, that is perfectly fine, grammatically speaking. Remember that names of countries should be capitalised (Spain rather than spain).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 24/04/2018 - 10:53

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Dear Sir This question is under puntuation; I hope it is all right to ask. My quesstion: what does 'two o'clock' mean when one writes it without the apostrophe? Is it 'two on the clock' I am I right or wrong? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Andrew int

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 24/04/2018 - 17:47

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

 

'o'clock' is an abbreviation of 'of the clock', not 'on the clock'.

I can't think of a situation when I'd say 'two on the clock'. There is the phrase 'on the clock', which people use in a work context to refer to the fact that they are being paid to work at a given time and so, for example, they shouldn't be answering personal phone calls. But it's not used to refer to a specific time of day.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Emaximus on Wed, 21/02/2018 - 18:55

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Hello. Can I use past for the next case? > I played football for five years. I want to say that I played football maybe ten, maybe more years ago. Not the last five years. Somewhere in the past, but totally around five years.

Hello Emaximus,

You can say this sentence but it means something different. 'For' here tells us how long you played football so the sentence tells us that you played football in the past and do not now and that your playing career lasted five years.

I think the best way to express what you want, if I've understood correctly, would be this:

I haven't played football for five years or so.

I used to play football, five years ago or so.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JJ53 on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 11:05

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Under the heading 'Questions and Negatives' why is the auxiliary 'did' used in the first four examples, but not in the last two examples? Could you please explain the grammar rules for this difference? Thank you.

Submitted by alotar on Sat, 20/01/2018 - 09:26

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Good afternoon! Would You be so kind to help me with one question? There's one piece of conversation, it's from the book "Essential English for Foreign Students" by C. E. Eckersley "...The man couldn't answer for laughing. He laughed until the tears came into his eyes. Then he caught hold of the porter and said:"Did you see those two fellows get into the train and leave me here?" "Yes, I saw them." "Well, I was the one who was going to London; they only came here to see me off!"... "Did you see those two fellows get into the train and leave me here?"This sentence here in the form of question makes me somehow feel confused. Why did the author use here"get"and "leave"? Is it because of "Did"? Can we paraphrase this sentence? Thank You very much!

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

Submitted by SahilK on Mon, 08/01/2018 - 19:56

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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

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 09/01/2018 - 08:08

In reply to by SahilK

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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

Submitted by davidinh on Fri, 01/12/2017 - 14:10

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Hi, I would like to quote the first part of a passage as below: "Up until the 1960s, not many British people had flown abroad for their holidays. Although the idea was attractive, flying was still too expensive for most people. The only choice people HAD WAS to go to British resorts. Instead of ...." I try to explain words "HAD WAS" in above sentence, but I can't. What is its grammar structure or something like that? Please, help me understand it clearly. Thank you! Best, David

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 02/12/2017 - 08:19

In reply to by 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

Submitted by Timmosky on Sun, 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

Submitted by Timmosky on Sun, 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

Submitted by Timmosky on Sun, 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

Submitted by Timmosky on Fri, 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

Submitted by Timmosky on Mon, 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

Submitted by aseel aftab on Sat, 04/11/2017 - 23:02

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

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 05/11/2017 - 07:14

In reply to by 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