The simple past (sometimes called the second verb form) is a very common verb form in English. Almost 20% of verbs in English are in the simple past. It is the second most common verb form, after the simple present.

Using the Simple Past

The simple past is used for actions that happened at a particular time in the past. They started and finished in the past. When you are telling a story about something that happened in the past, most main verbs will be in the simple past. 

Chart for Simple Past Tense in English

Simple Past Tense Illustration

The examples below illustrate the rules we generally follow when using this verb form

 

Examples

Here are some examples of regular verbs in the simple past:

Magellan landed in the Philippines in 1521.

Susan cooked us an amazing dinner last night!

I wanted a puppy when I was a child.

We needed lots of money to buy the new car.

England defeated Spain in the match last night.

Here are some examples of irregular verbs in the simple past:

Last night I saw a movie.

Back in June, I went to Paris.

I had a party last weekend. All my friends came.

We lost the match by three points.

I found my t-shirt under the bed.


Forming

As the table below shows, regular verbs take -ed to form the simple past tense. In some cases, this requires doubling the last consonant in the word. When you use this verb form, you almost always need to identify a specific time in the past when the action happened. Sometimes the simple past is referred to as the second verb form.

Simple Past Tense Verb Conjugation
Singular Plural
1st person worked. we  worked.
2nd person you  worked. you  worked.
3rd person he  worked. they  worked.
she  worked.
it  worked.

Notes

  • Generally, when we use the past tense, it is important that the speaker and listener know the specific time. For example, just saying I went to the movies is unusual.


Other Forms

Negative Sentences

If the verb is a form of be, make a negative sentences in the simple past, by putting not after the verb.

That was not Rebecca.

She wasn’t at school on Tuesday.

We were not excited.

If the verb is not a form of be, put did not before the main verb to make a negative.

We did not feel hungry at dinnertime.

I didn’t go to school yesterday.

They did not want to come.

Questions

Exactly like the questions in the simple present, if the simple past verb is a form of be, move the verb to before the subject to form a question.

Was that girl Rebecca?

Was that pork?

Were they angry?

Where were you?

How was the pizza?

For other verbs, add did before the subject.

Did you like the movie?

Did Claire go home?

Where did you go?

What did you make for lunch?

More free english resources

 

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