Past Simple Tense in English

Simple past tense verbs — also known as past simple or preterite — show action that occurred and was completed at a particular time in the past. The simple past tense of regular verbs is labeled with the -d or -ed endings. Irregular verbs have endings that may differ. Helping verbs isn’t following the simple past.

The simple past tense is often used for an adverbial expression that defines a time in the past, such as yesterday, last year, (or) an hour ago.

Past simple with the verb “be”

We use the verb “to be” in the past simple with either a noun, adjective or prepositional phrase:

  • was a college student. (with a noun)
  • You are sad. (with an adjective)
  • He was in the army. (with a prepositional phrase)

The form of the verb “to be” in the positive (affirmative):

Singular:

I: Was

You: Were

He/She/It: Was

Plural:

You/We/They: Were

Examples:

  • was happy yesterday.
  • He was an engineer for ten years.
  • She was sick yesterday. She was tired.
  • It was a beautiful day. It was warm and sunny.
  • We were friends for many years.
  • You were late for class. You were embarrassed.
  • The cookies were really delicious.

Yes/no questions with verb “be”

Singular:

Was – I – ?

Were – you – ?

Was- he/she/it – ?

Plural:

Were – you/we/they – ?

Questions that can have “yes” or “no” answers are formed by inverting the subject & “was” or “were”. Inverting simply means that we change the order of the subject and verb form:

Affirmative statement:  I was late. (the subject “I” is first, then the verb form “was”)

Affirmative question:  Was I late?  (to make a question, the verb form “was” comes first then the subject “I”).

Examples:

  • Was I late for the metro?
  • Was he previously married?
  • Was he a brave man?
  • Was that cookie delicious?
  • Were we happy children?
  • Were you teachers kind in secondary school?
  • Were your seats at the game very good?

Yes / no questions answers with “be”

Singular:

I – was not/wasn’t

You – were not/weren’t

He/She/It – was not/wasn’t

Plural:

You/We/They – were not/weren’t

We can answer yes / no questions with the verb “be” using a full or a shorter answer. We can use contractions (wasn’t / weren’t) with negative answers.

Examples:

Were you late for class?

  • Yes, I was late for the party.
  • Yes, I was. (short answer)
  • No, I was not late for the party.
  • No, I wasn’t late.

Were they hungry?

  • Yes, they were hungry.
  • Yes, they were. (short answer)
  • No, they were not.
  • No, they weren’t hungry.

Wh- questions past simple with “to be”

Singular:

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – was – I – ?

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – were – you – ?

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – was- he/she/it – ?

Plural:

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – were- you/we/they – ?

Examples:

  • Where was she today?
  • How were the apples? Were they delicious?
  • Why were the children sad?
  • What was your last name before marriage?
  • What were their favorite books as children?
  • Where were they last week?
  • How was the weather during your holiday?

Past simple with other verbs

To form the past simple tense with other verbs add “ed” to the infinitive form of the verb. We use the same form for each subject (e.g., I, you, he). It’s easy!

Singular:

I watched

You played

He/She/It worked

Plural:

You/We/They watched

Examples:

  • My son enjoyed the birthday party yesterday.
  • The concert started 20 minutes ago.
  • We opened the store early this morning
  • worked six days this week.
  • My girlfriend and I talked for five hours yesterday.
  • They played 70s music at the club last night.

Exceptions past simple tense

There are many irregular verbs in the past simple.

Examples:

  • We went to the movies last night. (NOT: we “goed”)
  • did my homework and after that I ate dinner. (NOT: “doed” or “eated”)
  • had two dogs. One ran away. (NOT:  “haved” or “runned”)

Here are many more examples:

be – was/were
find – found
begin – began
choose – chose
come – came
pay – paid
do – did
draw – drew
ring – rang
drive – drove
eat – ate
write – wrote
steal – stole
run – ran
go – went
get – got

Spelling changes with past simple

There are also some spelling changes with this tense.

1.  If the verb ends with “y”, we change it to -i and add -ed (but only if there’s a consonant  before the -y):

  • Try — tried
  • spy — spied

2.  If the verb ends with “e” , we add just a “d” (not “ed”):

  • closed — closed (NOT:  closeed)
  • measure — measured

3. Double the final consonant after a short stressed vowel if the verb ends in a CVC (consonant vowel consonant)*:

  • plan — planned
  • benefit — benefitted

*except CVC endings with w, x, or y

Examples:

  • My brother studied English last night.   (study — studied:  “y” becomes “i” then add “ed”)
  • My baby cried all night.   (cry — cried)
  • The other student copied the answers from my test.  (copy — copied)
  • The basketball player bounced the ball.  (bounce — bounced:  just add “d” not “ed”)
  • She measured my hips and waist for the dress.   (measure — measured)
  • stopped the car suddenly.  (stop — stopped:  double the “p”)
  • The sprinter benefitted from a tailwind during the 100m race.  (benefit — benefitted)
  • The mother planned a surprise party.  (plan — planned)

Negative form of the past simple

Singular:

I – did not/didn’t – go

You – did not/didn’t – go

He/She/It- did not/didn’t – go

Plural:

You/We/They- did not/didn’t – go

For the negative, we add did not (or didn’t) for all subject forms and the infinitive.

  • Correct:  He didn’t work today.
  • NOT correct:  He didn’t worked today. (do not  add an “ed” to “work”)

Carefully note that we just add “did not” or “didn’t” plus the infinitive so there are no irregular negative  past forms.

  • Correct:  He didn’t go today.
  • NOT correct:  He didn’t went today. (There are no irregular negative forms… yay!)

Examples:

  • didn’t play video games today. /  I did not play video games.
  • My mother didn’t tell me anything.
  • We didn’t sleep much last night. /  We did not sleep during the flight.
  • The teacher didn’t give any homework.  /  The teacher didn’t remember my name.
  • She didn’t like my gift. / I did not spend much money on it.

Yes / No questions with the past simple

Singular:

Did – I – buy – ?

Did – you – buy – ?

Did – he/she/it- buy – ?

Plural:

Did – you/we/they- buy – ?

Examples:

  • Did you swim today?
  • Did I teach a class last week?
  • Did he take any photography classes at the university?
  • Did you eat candy this week?
  • Did they buy a new car?

Wh- questions with the past simple

Singular:

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – did- I – go – ?

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – did – you – go – ?

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – did- he/she/it – go – ?

Plural:

Who/What/When/Where/Why/How – did- you/we/they – go – ?

Notice the word order. The wh- question word comes before “did” and then the infinitive.

Examples:

  • How long did you study English?
  • How often did he smoke cigarettes?
  • Where did your mother live when she was a girl?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Who did he bring to the dance yesterday?
  • What did the girl have in her bag?
  • How much meat did your dog eat?

See Also
The Present Simple Tense
Count and Non-Count Nouns