Past simple tense


Past simple tense – also called simple past, the simple past or past indefinite – represents one of the basic verb forms in English. It is mostly used to describe actions and situations that happened in the past. They began and finished in the past and do not have a direct correlation to present. Usually an exact point of time in the past is set (stated in the sentence directly or understood from the context).

Past simple is typical in storytelling to express the sequence of actions.

The speaker is focused on facts or actions themselves (simple actions – hence the name past simple) rather than on detailed description of the situation or the activity process (past continuous).

Let’s take a look at Past Simple in more detail

• You’ll will learn more on the situations when this tense is used.
• You will also find out how to form positive and negative sentences (Affirmatives and Negatives) and questions (Interrogatives) in Past Simple.
• And finally you will see a lot of examples, overviews, summaries, useful tips and common mistakes, as well as comparisons with other tenses, e.g. Past, Past Perfect or Present Perfect tense.


Past simple tense is used to express:

1. actions and situations finished in the past.
• We played volleyball yesterday. (yesterday = finished in the past)
• John went for a hike last weekend. (last weekend = finished in the past)
• I visited London a few years ago. (a few years ago = finished in the past)
• Ernest Hemingway wrote many interesting novels. (Hemingway will not write any more novels = finished in the past)

2. repeated actions or situations in the past (= habits).
• I worked at the farm last summer. (i.e. I don’t work there now)
• Mary watched TV on Monday evenings. (i.e. she doesn’t do it now)

For past habits to stress that the activity was performed repeatedly, also use “used to” + verb.

• I used to help out at my uncle’s farm in summer.
• Mary used to watch TV on Monday evenings.

3. consequent actions in a story.
• She got up early that morning. She went to the kitchen straight away and made herself a coffee. Then she rushed into the bathroom.

Past simple is often used together with the expressions that suggest that the action is finished in the past, e.g.:

yesterday, last week, last year, in the morning (when it is not morning any more), a year ago etc.


a/ Affirmative:
Affirmative (positive sentence) in past simple has the same form for all persons in singular and plural.
The only exception to this rule is the verb “to be”, where past simple form varies with persons (see more on the form of “to be” in past simple further in this article).

Regular verbs: For most of the verbs (so called regular verbs), affirmative is formed regularly from the infinitive by adding “ed” / “d” at the end of the verb (e.g. to learn → I learned).

• I worked too much this week.
• They lived in a small town.
• I studied at this University.

Irregular verbs: Some verbs, though, are an exception to the rule above and they form affirmative irregularly. You simply have to memorize these irregular verbs and learn their forms in past simple.

Examples of irregular verbs:

be was / were
have had
do did
make made
see saw
write wrote
give gave
hold held
write wrote

Here is the list of frequently used irregular verbs and their forms »

Examples of sentence with irregular verbs:
• W.A. Mozart was a famous Austrian composer. (infinitive = to be)
• Peter did a lot of work on this project. (infinitive = to do)
• We bought this house a long time ago. (infinitive = to buy)
• Jane spent a lot of money last week. (infinitive = to spend)
• Helen wrote an e-book about paleo diet. (infinitive = to write)
• President gave a speech about the State of the Union. (infinitive = to give)

b/ Negative:
We form negatives in past simple by the adding the auxiliary verb did / didn’t before the main verb in its basic form. Again, the form stays the same in all the persons (with the exception of the verb “to be” which is explained later on). The above applies for both regular and irregular verbs.
(regular: we watched → we didn’t watched)
(irregular: they caught → they did not catch)

• I didn’t drive the car that night.
• They didn’t know what to do.
• John did not return on time.

c/ Interrogative (questions):
The auxiliary verb did is used to create questions in past simple, however the word order needs to be changed so that the auxiliary verb comes first.
Remember to change the main verb back to its basic form for both regular and irregular verbs.
(regular: we watcheddid we watched?)
(irregular: they caughtdid they catch?)

Did you really ask for that?
Did your mother know about it?

d/ Negative questions:
In negative questions in past simple the auxiliary verb in negative (did not / didn’t) is used either in short or the long form as follows:
Didn’t you recognize him at once? (short form)
Did they not like the party? (long form)

Overview: regular verbs – Affirmative, Negative and Interrogative

Here is a brief overview of regular verb forms in past simple. The verb to work will serve as an example.

I worked I didn’t work Did I work?
You worked You didn’t work Did you work?
He/she/it worked He/she/it didn’t work Did he/she/it work?
We worked We didn’t work Did we work?
You worked You didn’t work Did you work?
They worked They didn’t work Did they work?
Be careful to avoid the common mistake in negative sentences and questions in Past Simple – not changing the main verb into its basic form.

Common mistakes:
Incorrect: Did she told you the thruth? Correct: Did she tell you the truth?
Incorrect: She didn’t told me the truth. Correct: She didn’t tell me the truth..

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