We use the simple past tense for events that happened or started and completed in the past and that have no relation with the present.
We use the simple past tense:
- to describe an action that occurred in the past or at a specified time or the time is easily understood or already implied.
Example: We finished our final exam an hour ago. (NOT: We have/had finished our final exam an
Example: My grandfather played for the Yellow Hornless Bull football team.
Example: I ate a big spicy piece of pizza for my breakfast.
- for an action that began and ended in the past.
Example: The dangerous criminal was recaptured after three months on the run.
- to refer to an action completed regardless of how recent or distant in the past.
Example: Alexander Bell invented the telephone in 1876.
Example: My brother joined the circus as a clown last week.
- for an action done repeatedly, habitually or at regular times in the past.
Example: We saw the movie 'Titanic' several times at the cinema.
Example: Brian was always a heavy drinker in the old days.
Example: He phoned his mother every Sunday until her death.
Example: I felt very tired after a couple of games of tennis.
- for a short event or action that comes or follows one after the other.
Example: We looked left and we looked right. Then we crossed the road.
- to place emphasis on what we say, especially in response to some remark.
Example: "You didn't seem to help much." "I did help to clear the room of all the unwanted
- to talk about someone who has died.
Example: Arthur was a highly respected science-fiction writer.
Example: He left all his money to charity.
- in providing details or information about events that happened subsequent to news reports which, when first reported, are usually expressed in present perfect tense.
Example: Negotiations with the insurgent forces have broken down. The leader of the insurgent forces blamed the government for the break down. A government spokesman said the insurgent forces made unreasonable demands.
Regular and irregular verbs
- We form the simple past tense of most verbs by adding –ed to the verb. These verbs are called regular verbs. Most verbs are regular verbs.
- The simple past tense of some verbs does not end in –ed. These verbs are the irregular verbs.
- The simple past tense irregular verbs can only be used in the positive, not negative.
For example: He kept all his money in the bank. (NOT: He did not kept all his money in the bank.)
- Examples of regular verbs:
- There are many irregular verbs. Examples of irregular verbs are:
- The simple past tense of some irregular verbs does not change at all.
Regular verbs and irregular verbs as expressed in the affirmative and negative.
Affirmative – He cycled to work.
Negative – He did not cycle to work. (NOT: He did not cycled to work.)
Affirmative – He stole her purse.
Negative – He did not steal her purse. (NOT: He did not stole her purse.)
Note that was and were are forms of the verb be. Was is the simple past tense of am and is and is used with the pronouns I, he, she and it, and with singular nouns. Were is the simple past tense of are and is used with the pronouns you, we and they, and with plural nouns.
Regular verbs in simple past tense forms:
Most verbs when expressed in the simple past tense are formed by adding –ed to the end of the verbs. These verbs are called regular verbs. Examples: kiss – kissed; touch – touched.
- If a verb ends with –e, only –d is added to change its tense to past simple. Example: live – lived
- If a verb ends in –ie, add –d. Examples: lie – lied; belie - belied
- If a verb ends in:
a vowel + –y, just add –ed. Examples: employ – employed; buoy – buoyed
a consonant + –y, change the y to i and then add –ed. Examples: cry – cried; pry – pried.
one vowel + one consonant and is a one-syllable verb, double the consonant and add –ed. Example: step - stepped; chop - chopped; can - canned
one vowel + one consonant, double the consonant only if the second syllable of a two-syllable verb is stressed (e.g.,preFER - preferred) but not if the first syllable of a two-syllable verb is stressed (e.g., WONder - wondered)
two consonants, just add –ed. Examples: pull – pulled; scold - scolded
two vowels + one consonant, don't double the consonant, add –ed. Examples: peep – peeped; leak - leaked; raid - raided
We use the expression used to to refer to a past habit or situation that no longer exists. We use the infinitive without to after 'used to.'
||I used to chase butterflies, but now I don't see any butterfly around.
||(NOT: I used to to chase butterflies, .....)
||She used to be scared of spiders, but now she keeps a pet spider.
||Did you used/use to live in a houseboat?
||Professor Crabby is never used to people arguing with him.
The passive form
We use the passive form of the simple past tense when the action is done to the subject. It is formed by using was/were + past participle.
Example: Last night the police station was broken into.
- Often the doer of the action is not mentioned or known.
Example: That old mighty tree was once struck by lightning.
- Sometimes we use the preposition 'by' to mention the person or thing that did the action.
Example: The pickpocket was beaten up and then handed over to the police. (We leave out 'he was' between 'then' and 'handed'.)
- When the same subject is used with two passive verbs, we leave out the pronoun and the verb in the second part of the sentence.
The simple past tense and the past continuous tense
- We use the simple past tense to show a complete action and the past continuous tense to show an action in progress.
Example: Last night I stepped on a snake and it bit my leg. (simple past - complete actions)
Example: At eleven o'clock last night, I was looking for my car key. (past continuous – action in progress)
- We use the simple past and past continuous tenses together to indicate an action happened while another was in progress.
Example: I was running away from a dog when I knocked an old lady to the ground. (past continuous and simple past tenses – knocked an old lady in the middle of running away.)
The simple past tense and the past perfect tense
- When the simple past and past perfect tenses are used together in a sentence, the past perfect tense is used for something that happened earlier.
||He filled the case with cartons of orange juice. (Only one action; a simple past tense is
used.) After he had filled the case with cartons of orange juice, he loaded it into the van.
(Both past perfect and simple past tenses are used. The action that happened earlier is
expressed in the past perfect tense – had filled.)
a) When I arrived, the pet show started.
b) When I arrived, the pet show had started.
c) I arrived before he delivered the opening address.
d) I arrived before he had delivered the opening address.
e) Nobody asked any question until he explained the procedure.
f) Nobody asked any question until he had explained the procedure.
In (a), the meaning is the same as: I arrived just in time for the show.
In (b), the meaning is the same as: I missed the initial part of the show.
(c) and (d): there is no difference in meaning.
(e) and (f): there is no difference in meaning.
- When one action followed another, the past perfect tense is not used. The simple past tense is used for both events.
Example: When Jack saw Jill, he waved to her. (NOT: When Jack had seen Jill, he waved to her.)