What is the Simple Past?

The simple past tense is easy to use in English just like the present tense. Overall, the simple past is used to describe an action that started and ended at a definite time in the past. This tense is used very commonly to describe events, so it is important to know it well.

How to Use

The simple past forms are easy to make. All you have to do is to add “ed” at the end of every verb, except irregular verbs. Every verb in English has only one form of it in the past, except the verb ?to be,? which has two forms: was and were.

Regular VerbsThe verb to be
I wantedI was
You cookedYou were
He waitedHe was
She createdShe was
It rainedIt was
We watched We were
They jumpedThey were

Note: To form the simple past for both questions (interrogative form) and negative form, you should pay attention to two things:

  • Use the simple past form of ?to do?, which is “did”.
  • Use the main verb in the base form. (I did not play the game yesterday.)

The verb “did” in the above examples is an auxiliary, learn more about auxiliary verbs.

Negative forms in the past tense:

  • I didn’t want to go to the mall.
  • She didn’t have time to waste.
  • You didn’t close the window.
  • He didn’t come to my birthday.
  • They didn’t study so they didn’t pass the exam.
  • We didn’t sleep well at my friend?s house.

Questions in the past tense:

Questions are also very easy to make in simple past. Just add ?did? before the subject, and the infinitive after it. For example, ?Did you see the movie yesterday??

  • Did you go to school yesterday?
  • Did they arrive at the mall?.
  • Did she like her new car? 
  • Where did she go?
  • What did you do yesterday at her apartment?

When to Use

1. When talking about a completed action in the past:

Use the past tense when you want to express an action that began and ended at a specific time in the past. 

  • talked to Liza yesterday
  • didn?t read my book last night.
  • Last week, I washed my car.
  • Last year, I traveled to Paris.
  • Did you have exams yesterday?
  • She didn?t call him back last night.

2. When talking about a series of completed actions:

We can use the simple past to list a series of completed events or actions:

  • woke up this morning, brushed my teeth, and had my breakfast.
  • We arrived to the wedding, had group lunch, took photos and danced to the music.
  • Did you add salt, pour in table oil, and then add garlic?

3.When describing a duration in the past:

The simple past can be used on durations that start and end in the past. This duration is often expressed using words like all day, for two years, for two hours, all year, etc.

  • He lived in London for five years.
  • Elizabeth studied Italian for three years.
  • They worked on the project all night.
  • We talked on the phone for two hours.

4.When talking about habitual activities:

The simple past can be used to talk about habits which stopped in the past.

  • He learned the language when I he was a child.
  • She played the piano.
  • She didn?t play the guitar.
  • Did you play hide and seek when you were a kid?
  • She worked as a waitress after school.
  • They never saw the movie; they were always busy.

5. When talking about facts or general ideas:

We can also use the past tense to talk about facts or generalizations which happened in the past but are no longer valid:

  • He was afraid of heights, but now he is very courageous.
  • She didn?t like apples before.
  • Did you live in Spain when you were in Europe? 
  • Travelers paid much more to go from one city to another in the past.
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