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Friday, January 7, 2022

Simple Past Tense - Examples, Rules and Exercise


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The Meaning of Simple Past Tense

The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now.


The simple past or past simple or past indefinite, sometimes called the preterite, is the basic form of the past tense in Modern English. It is used principally to describe events in the past, although it also has some other uses. Regular English verbs form the simple past in -ed; however, there are a few hundred irregular verbs with different forms.

The Past Simple Tense is used to refer to actions that were completed in a time period before the present time. In the Simple Past the process of performing the action is not important. What matters is that the action was completed in the past. The action may have been in the recent past or a long time ago. 


The term "simple" is used to distinguish the syntactical construction whose basic form uses the plain past tense alone, from other past tense constructions which use auxiliaries in combination with participles, such as the past perfect and past progressive.


How do we make the Past Simple tense?

There are two basic structures for the Past Simple tense:

1. Positive sentences

subject+main verb
Past Simple

2. Negative and question sentences

subject+auxiliary do+main verb
conjugated in Past Simple

Look at these examples with the main verbs go (irregular) and work (regular):

subjectauxiliary verbmain verb
+Iwentto school.
Youworkedvery hard.
Shedidnotgowith me.
?Didyougoto London?
Didtheyworkat home?

From the above table, notice the following points…

For positive sentences:

  • There is no auxiliary verb.
  • The main verb is conjugated in the Past Simple, invariable: -ed (or irregular)

For negative and question sentences:

The auxiliary is conjugated in the Past Simple, invariable: did

The main verb is invariable in base form: base

For negative sentences, we insert not between the auxiliary verb and main verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the auxiliary verb.

Emphatic did

Normally, for positive sentences we do not use the auxiliary did. But if we want to emphasize (stress) something, or contradict something, we may use it. For example: “I didn’t use a spellchecker but I did use a dictionary.” Here are some more examples:

“Why didn’t you go to the party?” / “I did go.”

It did seem a bit strange.

After drinking it I did in fact feel better.

Past Simple with main verb be

The structure of the Past Simple with the main verb be is:

subject+main verb be
conjugated in Past Simple
was, were

Look at these examples with the main verb be:

subjectmain verb be
+I, he/she/itwashere.
You, we, theywerein London.
I, he/she/itwasnotthere.
You, we, theywerenothappy.
?WasI, he/she/itright?
Wereyou, we, theylate?

From the above table, notice the following points…

There is no auxiliary verb, even for questions and negatives.

The main verb (be) is conjugated in the Past Simple: was, were

For negative sentences, we insert not after the main verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the main verb.

How do we use the Past Simple tense?

We use the Past Simple tense to talk about an action or a situation – an event – in the past. The event can be short or long.

Here are some short events with the Past Simple:

The car exploded at 9.30am yesterday.
She went to the door.
We did not hear the telephone.
Did you see that car?
The action is in the past.

Here are some long events with the Past Simple tense:

lived in Bangkok for 10 years.
The Jurassic period lasted about 62 million years.
We did not sing at the concert.
Did you watch TV last night?
The action is in the past.

Notice that 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. Also it does not matter how long the event is. It can be a few milliseconds (car explosion) or millions of years (Jurassic period).

We use the Past Simple tense when:

the event is in the past

the event is completely finished

we say (or understand) the time and/or place of the event

In general, if we say the past time or place of the event, we must use the Past Simple tense; we cannot use the present perfect.

Here are some more examples:

lived in that house when I was young.

He didn’t like the movie.

What did you eat for dinner?

John drove to London on Monday.

Mary did not go to work yesterday.

Did you play tennis last week?

was at work yesterday.

We were not late (for the train).

Were you angry?

Note that when we tell a story, we usually use the Past Simple. We may start with the Past Continuous tense to “set the scene”, but we almost always use the Past Simple tense for the action. Look at this example of the beginning of a story:


Affirmative, negative, & interrogative forms


The affirmative of the simple past tense is simple.

  • was in Japan last year
  • She had a headache yesterday.
  • We did our homework last night.
Negative and interrogative

For the negative and interrogative simple past form of "to do" as an ordinary verb, use the auxiliary "did", e.g. We didn't do our homework last night.
The negative of "have" in the simple past is usually formed using the auxiliary "did", but sometimes by simply adding not or the contraction "n't".

The interrogative form of "have" in the simple past normally uses the auxiliary "did".

  • They weren't in Rio last summer.
  • We didn't have any money.
  • We didn't have time to visit the Eiffel Tower.
  • We didn't do our exercises this morning.
  • Were they in Iceland last January?
  • Did you have a bicycle when you were young?
  • Did you do much climbing in Switzerland?

Note: For the negative and interrogative form of all verbs in the simple past, always use the auxiliary 'did''.

Regular and Irregular Verbs


In order to convert regular verbs from their base form to the simple past form, we add -ed. For irregular verbs, however, the simple past form doesn’t follow this rule and can vary significantly and you simply need to learn them by heart. There are many irregular verbs but below you can find the most common ones that you need to know for daily use.


Regular verb examples


  • place – placed
  • dance – danced
  • plan – planned
  • stop – stopped
  • fix – fixed
  • snow – snowed
  • rain – rained
  • need – needed
  • help – helped
  • add – added
  • worry – worried
  • play – played


As you can see from these examples, with most regular verbs we add -ed. When a verb ends in -e we simply add -d. And when a verb ends in a consonant and -y, we change the -y to -i and add -ed.


Irregular verb examples


  • be – was/were
  • buy – bought
  • come – came
  • do – did
  • eat – ate
  • find – found
  • go – went
  • have – had
  • leave – left
  • make – made
  • pay – paid
  • see – saw
  • take – took
  • tell – told
  • write – wrote



Watch the following Videos:






QUIZ - Past Simple Tense

You can do this grammar quiz. It tests what you learned on the Past Simple page.

1. I _____ to the mall after school.


2. My brother _____ a bear an hour ago.


3. _____ Mike visit his grandmother last night?


4. Alex did not _____ last weekend.


5. _____ Judy and Liz at last month’s meeting?


6. We _____ not happy after the sad ending.


7. _____ you see Jody’s new dog yesterday?


8. Sorry, I ________ hear you at the door.

 am not

9. I _____ English for two years.


10. What _____ you eat for lunch yesterday?