SIMPLE PAST

The simple past is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now. Duration is not important. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past.

BE CAREFUL!

The simple past in English may look like a tense in your own language, but the meaning may be different.

1. When to use the Simple past

Rule: The simple past is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now.

  • John Cabot sailed to America in 1498.
  • My father died last year.
  • He lived in Fiji in 1976.
  • We crossed the Channel yesterday.

You always use the simple past when you say when something happened, so it is associated with certain past time expressions

Examples

  • frequency:
    often, sometimes, always;
  • a definite point in time:
    last week, when I was a child, yesterday, six weeks ago.
  • an indefinite point in time:
    the other day, ages ago, a long time ago etc.

Note: the word ago is a useful way of expressing the distance into the past. It is placed afterthe period of time e.g. a week ago, three years ago, a minute ago.

Examples

  • Yesterday, I arrived in Geneva.
  • She finished her work at seven o’clock.
  • We saw a good film last week.
  • went to the theatre last night.
  • She played the piano when she was a child.
  • He sent me a letter six months ago.
  • Peter left five minutes ago.

2. How to form the Simple Past

Regular verbsbase+ed
e.g. walked, showed, watched, played, smiled, stopped

Irregular verbssee list of verbs

Simple past, be, have, do:

SubjectVerb

Be

Have

Do

I

was

had

did

You

were

had

did

He, she, it

was

had

did

We

were

had

did

You

were

had

did

They

were

had

did

Affirmative

  • was in Japan last year
  • She had a headache yesterday.
  • We did our homework last night.

Negative and interrogative

Note:

For the negative and interrogative simple past form of “do” as an ordinary verb, use the auxiliary “do”, e.g. We didn’t do our homework last night. The negative of “have” in the simple past is usually formed using the auxiliary “do”, but sometimes by simply adding not or the contraction “n’t”.

The interrogative form of “have” in the simple past normally uses the auxiliary “do”.

  • They weren’t in Rio last summer.
  • We hadn’t any money.
  • We didn’t have time to visit the Eiffel Tower.
  • We didn’t do our exercises this morning.
  • Were they in Iceland last January?
  • Did you have a bicycle when you were a boy?
  • Did you do much climbing in Switzerland?

Simple past, regular verbs

Simple Past 3

Affirmative
Subjectverb + ed 
Iwashed 
Negative
Subjectdid notinfinitive without to
Theydidn’tvisit …
Interrogative
Didsubjectinfinitive without to
Didshearrive…?
Interrogative negative
Did notsubjectinfinitive without to
Didn’tyoulike..?

Example: to walk, simple past.

AffirmativeNegativeInterrogative
I walkedI didn’t walkDid I walk?
You walkedYou didn’t walkDid you walk?
He,she,it walkedHe didn’t walkDid he walk?
We walkedWe didn’t walkDid we walk?
You walkedYou didn’t walkDid you walk?
They walkedThey didn’t walkDid they walk?

Note: For the negative and interrogative form of all verbs in the simple past, always use the auxiliary ‘did”.

Simple Past 4

Examples: Simple past, irregular verbs

to go

  • He went to a club last night.
  • Did he go to the cinema last night?
  • He didn’t go to bed early last night.

to give

  • We gave her a doll for her birthday.
  • They didn’t give John their new address.
  • Did Barry give you my passport?

to come

  • My parents came to visit me last July.
  • We didn’t come because it was raining.
  • Did he come to your party last week?

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