In this article, we will review and break down the Past Simple tense. We’ve included several tables so you can easily see how to create past simple sentences if you need a reminder. And, for tables and resources of verb tenses in every form, check out our main article on verb tenses.
Forming the Past Simple Tense (with Tables)
Quick Reference Table: The Simple Present Tense in All forms
V → Root Verb
V2 → the second form (Past Simple) of an irregular verb
Ved → Past form for regular verbs
Form this tense with regular verbs by adding -ed or -d to the root verb.
However, English has a long list of irregular verbs (over 200) with their own forms. Some verbs in the past tense will remain exactly the same as their root form.
Other irregular verbs are even more unpredictable.
The positive aspect to verbs in the Past Simple tense is that they do not have to agree with the subject regarding numbers.
Making It Negative
To make a Past Simple verb negative, use this formula: Did + not + Root Form of Verb. You can also use the contraction of did not (didn’t) instead.
Asking a Question
To ask a question in the Past Simple, use the formula: Did + subject + root form of the verb.
‘To Be’ (or Not ‘To Be’)
‘To be’ is the most-used verb in the English language and was probably the first you learned when you started your English learning journey. It’s important to note that ‘to be’ is also an irregular verb. Use the table below when you’re not sure of which form to use in the Past Simple tense.
The rules for using ‘to be’ in negative and question form remain the same (scroll up to the first table in this article). Note that the contractions wasn’t and weren’t could be used in place of was not and were not.
When to Use Past Simple Tense
When describing things that were completed in the past or existed before the present.
For example, if I wanted to tell you what happened when my friend Johnny and his band visited last week, I would use sentences like:
When using the Past Simple tense, you’re describing an action that happened in the past and is finished.
**Note: Use the past continuous tense if you want to emphasize that the action was in progress.**
When describing something that happened for a duration of time in the past but stopped.
Durations are longer actions that happen over a period of time. They’re often used with time indicators like for three years, for 20 minutes, all day, all night, etc…
When describing an old habit from the past.
This usage is often accompanied by time indicators like never, when, always, often, usually, etc…
When talking about past facts or generalizations
Use the Past Simple tense to describe something that was factual but is no longer true.
Knowing the verb conjugations in the Past Simple tense is must-have knowledge for effective communication. For more resources on grammar and other ESL topics like the simple future tense, visit the Magoosh Speaking Site.