Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Simple Past Tense

Simple Past Tense

The Simple Past Tense, often just called the Past Tense, is easy to use in English.
If you already know how to use the Present Tense, then the Past Tense will be easy.
In general, the Past Tense is used to talk about something that started and finished at a definite time in the past 

How to form the Past Tense in English
The main rule is that for every verb in English, there is only one form of it in the past tense.
(The exception is the 
Past tense of To Be, which has two forms: was and were)
This is totally different from other languages such as Spanish, French, Italian etc. where you change the verb ending for every subject.
For example: The past tense of the verb want is wanted.
Wanted is used as the past tense for all subjects/pronouns.
  • I wanted
  • You wanted
  • He wanted
  • She wanted
  • It wanted
  • We wanted
  • They wanted
So you just have to learn one word to be able to use it in the past tense. In this case we just needed to learn the one word wanted which can be used for all subjects (or people).
Past Tense Regular Verbs
To change a regular verb into its past tense form, we normally add –ED to the end of the verb.
  • play – played
  • cook – cooked
  • rain – rained
  • wait – waited
There are some exceptions with a slight change in spelling which you can see here:
Spelling of words ending in ED.
Examples of sentences using regular verbs in the past tense
  • Last night I played my guitar loudly and the neighbors complained.
  • She kissed me on the cheek.
  • It rained yesterday.
  • Angela watched TV all night.
  • John wanted to go to the museum.
Note: There are three different ways of pronouncing the –ed at the end of a verb in the past tense.
We recommend reading our guide about the 
pronunciation of –ED at the end of words.
Negative sentences in the Past Tense
We use didn't (did not) to make a negative sentence in the past tense.
This is for regular AND irregular verbs in English.
(Exception is To Be and Modal Verbs such as Can)
Compare the following:
Present: They don't live in Canada.
Past: They didn't live in Canada.
Both don't and doesn't in the present tense become didn't in the past tense.
Compare the negative sentences in the examples below:
Present: You don't need a mechanic.
Past: You didn't need a mechanic.
Present: You don't walk to work.
Past: You didn't walk to work.
Present: He doesn't speak Japanese.
Past: He didn't speak Japanese.
Examples of negative sentences in the Past Tense
  • I didn't want to go to the dentist. ÷Àùßõ µµ<÷À]
  • She didn't have time.
  • You didn't close the door.
  • He didn't come to my party.
  • They didn't study so they didn't pass the test.
  • We didn't sleep well last night.

Questions in the Past Tense
We use did to make a question in the past tense.
This is for regular AND irregular verbs in English.
(Exception is To Be and Modal Verbs such as Can)
Compare the following:
Present: Do they live in France?
Past: Did they live in France?
The main verb (live in the example above) is in its base form (of the infinitive). The auxiliary DID shows that the question is in the past tense.
NOTICE: The only difference between a question in the present tense and a question in the past tense is the change in the auxiliary verb.
Do and Does in present tense questions become Didn't in past tense questions.
Compare the questions in the examples below:
Present: Do you need a doctor?
Past: Did you need a doctor?
Present: Do you ride your bike to work?
Past: Did you ride your bike to work?
Present: Does he live in Italy?
Past: Did he live in Italy?
We can also use a question word (Who, What, Why etc.) before DID to ask for more information.
  • Did you study? – Yes, I did.
  • When did you study? – I studied last night.
  • Where did you study? – I studied at the library.
Examples of Questions in the Past Tense
  • Did you go to work yesterday?
  • Did they arrive on time?
  • Did she like the surprise?
  • Where did she go?
  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What did you say? - I didn't say anything.
  • Why did we have to come?
Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense
Irregular verbs are ONLY irregular in affirmative/positive sentences.
(An exception to this is with the verb 
TO BE in the Past Tense).
For example: The past tense of GO is WENT.
It does not end in –ED so it is considered irregular.
The word went is used for all subjects – I, you, we, they, he, she, it.
  • I went to the beach
  • He went to the park.
  • She went to the zoo.
  • They went to the library.
BUT, as we mentioned before, it is only in its irregular form (went) in sentences that are affirmative/positive.
Compare the following using GO in the past tense.
  • They went to the beach
  • They didn't go to the beach --- Didn't shows that we are talking in the past tense.
  • Did they go to the beach? --- Did shows that we are talking in the past tense.
Another example with an irregular verb.
The past of EAT is ATE.
  • You ate my cake.
  • You didn't eat my cake.
  • Did you eat my cake?
Present vs Past Tense Summary Chart
Questions in the Simple Past, Questions with did
1. Questions without question words in Simple Past
Auxiliary (+ n't)
the film yesterday?
to be
Auxiliary (+ n't)
in Leipzig last week?
2. Questions with question words in Simple Past
Question word
yesterday evening?
I played computer games.
her boyfriend?
She met him yesterday.
after the match?
They went to a café.
Question word
to be
I was at the cinema.
The Past Simple Tense
(also called the simple past tense)
It's similar to the present simple because it has different rules for the verb 'be', which becomes 'was' or 'were':
The Past Simple with 'be'
Here's how to make the positive:
Positive with 'be'
I was cold
you were tired
he was in the garden
she was late
it was sunny
we were on holiday
they were hungry
To make the negative with 'be', just add 'not':
Negative with 'be'
Negative Short Form
I was not sleepy
I wasn't sleepy
you were not on the bus
you weren't on the bus
he was not at school
he wasn't at school
she was not beautiful
she wasn't beautiful
it was not cold
it wasn't cold
we were not at work
we weren't at work
they were not tired
they weren't tired
To make a question, just like the present simple, we change the position of 'was / were' and the subject.
Here are the past simple 'yes / no' questions with 'be':
'Yes / No' Questions with 'Be'
was I sleepy?
were you late?
was he at the cinema?
was she kind?
was it hot?
were we hungry?
were they at work?
And the 'wh' questions with 'be' (the question word just goes at the beginning, everything else is the same):
'Wh' Questions with 'Be'
why was I sleepy?
where were you?
when was he at the cinema?
how was she?
how was it?
why were we hungry?
when were they at work?
The Past Simple (Simple Past) with Other Verbs
We make the past simple just like the present simple except we use 'did' instead of 'do / does'. It's really easy because 'did' doesn't change, even with 'he / she / it'.
The positive:
We usually make the positive by adding '-ed' to the infinitive. For example, 'play' becomes 'played'. However, there are some irregular verbs, for example 'go' becomes 'went' and 'run' becomes 'ran'.
(Here's some help if you are not sure how to pronounce '-ed' at the end of a verb).
Positive with Other Verbs
I walked (regular) æÜ´<õß
you played (regular)
he cooked (regular)
she listened (regular)
it rained (regular)
we ate (irregular) àæÜ´<õß
they drank (irregular)

In the negative there aren't any irregular verbs. All verbs use 'did not (didn't) + infinitive':
Negative Short Form
I did not walk
I didn't walk
you did not play
you didn't play
he did not cook
he didn't cook
she did not listen
she didn't listen
it did not rain
it didn't rain
we did not eat
we didn't eat
they did not drink
they didn't drink
Questions are also very easy. Just put 'did' before the subject, and the infinitive after it.
Here are the 'yes / no' questions:
'Yes / No' Questions
did I walk?
did you play?
did he cook?
did she listen?
did it rain?
did we eat?
did they drink?
To make a 'wh' question, of course, put the question word at the beginning of the sentence:
'Wh' Questions
where did I go?
what did you play?
what did he cook?
why did she listen?
when did it rain?
where did we eat?
how did they travel?
1. What did you eat (eat /you) last Monday?

2. When  did you see (you/see) that film ?

3. How  did you come(come /you) here?

4. Why  did he take (take/he) my book ?

5. Why did you say (say/ you) that?

6. When  did they enter (they/ enter) through the window?

7. Where  did Jane go (Jane/go) on holiday last month?

8. What time  did the train leave (the train/ leave) ?

9. How much  did this dress cost (this dress/cost) ?

10. How many friends  did he meet (he/meet) yesterday ?

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Past Tense - Short Answers

As is the case with any verb tense in English, it is generally possible to give short answers to a question. This is certainly the case for questions in the past tense.
If the question commences with one of the traditional question words such as WHO, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, WHAT, WHICH or HOW, it requires a more detailed answer and it is not possible to give a short answer.
Examples of long answers
What did you do on the weekend?
- I went to a party with my friends.
(It is not possible to give a short answer to this question like 'Yes, I did').
Why did you call him?
- Because I needed to borrow his computer.
HOWEVER, if the question is more direct, and commences with a verb or Did, then it is generally possible to give a short or a long answer to the question.
Was Chris at the party last night?
- Yes, he was. (short answer)
- Yes, Chris was at the party last night. (long answer)
Did you see Julie on the weekend?
- No, I didn't. (short answer)
- No, I didn't see Julie on the weekend. (long answer) 
Could they speak Japanese?
- Yes, they could. (short answer)
- Yes, they could speak Japanese. (long answer)
As you can see, long answers usually sound repetitive and are not commonly used.
Short Answers with DID
Remember that if the question starts with DID, you can give a short answer using DID. It is not necessary to use the main verb in the answer.
Did you sleep well last night?
Yes, I did / No, I didn't.
Did the airplane arrive on time?
Yes, it did / No, it didn't.
Did they remember your birthday?
Yes, they did / No, they did not.
Did your parents ring you last week?
Yes, they did / No, they didn't.
Did you lose your dog?
Yes, I did / No, I did not.

In questions that use DID it is possible to give short answers as follows:
Sample Questions
Short Answer
Short Answer
Did I pass the test?
Yes, you did.
No, you didn't.
Did you need a dictionary?
Yes, I did.
No, I didn't.
Did you both like the movie?
Yes, we did.
No, we didn't.
Did they finish their homework?
Yes, they did.
No, they didn't.
Did he have a good time?
Yes, he did.
No, he didn't.
Did she want to leave early?
Yes, she did.
No, she didn't.
Did it have blue buttons?
Yes, it did.
No, it didn't.

Short Answers with Was / Were
In questions that use Was or Were it is possible to give short answers as follows:
Sample Questions
Short Answer
Short Answer
Was I correct?
Yes, you were.
No, you weren't.
Were you busy yesterday?
Yes, I was.
No, I wasn't.
Were you both embarrassed?
Yes, we were.
No, we weren't.
Were they hungry?
Yes, they were.
No, they weren't.
Was he late again?
Yes, he was.
No, he wasn't.
Was she a good student?
Yes, she was.
No, she wasn't.
Was it ready?
Yes, it was.
No, it wasn't.
* There are NO contractions with Affirmative short answers.
Summary Charts
  • You were studying when she called.
  • Were you studying when she called?
  • You were not studying when she called.

USE 1 Interrupted Action in the Past

Use the Past Continuous to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted. The interruption is usually a shorter action in the Simple Past. Remember this can be a real interruption or just an interruption in time.
  • I was watching TV when she called.
  • When the phone rang, she was writing a letter.
  • While we were having the picnic, it started to rain.
  • What were you doing when the earthquake started?
  • I was listening to my iPod, so I didn't hear the fire alarm.
  • You were not listening to me when I told you to turn the oven off.
  • While John was sleeping last night, someone stole his car.
  • Sammy was waiting for us when we got off the plane.
  • While I was writing the email, the computer suddenly went off.
  • A: What were you doing when you broke your leg?
In USE 1, described above, the Past Continuous is interrupted by a shorter action in the Simple Past. However, you can also use a specific time as an interruption.
  • Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
  • At midnight, we were still driving through the desert.
  • Yesterday at this time, I was sitting at my desk at work.


In the Simple Past, a specific time is used to show when an action began or finished. In the Past Continuous, a specific time only interrupts the action.
  • Last night at 6 PM, I ate dinner.
    I started eating at 6 PM.
  • Last night at 6 PM, I was eating dinner.
    I started earlier; and at 6 PM, I was in the process of eating dinner.
When you use the Past Continuous with two actions in the same sentence, it expresses the idea that both actions were happening at the same time. The actions are parallel.
  • I was studying while he was making dinner.
  • While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching television.
  • Were you listening while he was talking?
  • I wasn't paying attention while I was writing the letter, so I made several mistakes.
  • What were you doing while you were waiting?
  • Thomas wasn't working, and I wasn't working either.
  • They were eating dinner, discussing their plans, and having a good time.
In English, we often use a series of parallel actions to describe the atmosphere at a particular time in the past.
  • When I walked into the office, several people were busily typing, some were talking on the phones, the boss was yelling directions, and customers were waiting to be helped. One customer was yelling at a secretary and waving his hands. Others were complaining to each other about the bad service.

USE 5 Repetition and Irritation with "Always"

The Past Continuous with words such as "always" or "constantly" expresses the idea that something irritating or shocking often happened in the past. The concept is very similar to the expression "used to" but with negative emotion. Remember to put the words "always" or "constantly" between "be" and "verb+ing."
  • She was always coming to class late.
  • He was constantly talking. He annoyed everyone.
  • I didn't like them because they were always complaining.

While vs. When

Clauses are groups of words which have meaning, but are often not complete sentences. Some clauses begin with the word "when" such as "when she called" or "when it bit me." Other clauses begin with "while" such as "while she was sleeping" and "while he was surfing." When you talk about things in the past, "when" is most often followed by the verb tense Simple Past, whereas "while" is usually followed by Past Continuous. "While" expresses the idea of "during that time." Study the examples below. They have similar meanings, but they emphasize different parts of the sentence.
  • I was studying when she called.
  • While I was studying, she called.

REMEMBER Non-Continuous Verbs / Mixed Verbs

It is important to remember that Non-Continuous Verbs cannot be used in any continuous tenses. Also, certain non-continuous meanings forMixed Verbs cannot be used in continuous tenses. Instead of using Past Continuous with these verbs, you must use Simple Past.
  • Jane was being at my house when you arrived. Not Correct
  • Jane was at my house when you arrived. Correct
1.   They were not ill.
2.   You were not tired.
3.   The children were not quiet.
4.   Max was not in Helsinki last week.
5.   She was not home for dinner.
6.   The water was not cold.
7.   There was not a good film on TV yesterday.
8.   We were not in Brazil last winter.
9.   Betty and Florence were not at school this morning.
10.     I was not happy when I heard about the accident.