At Everywhere English, we are committed to your learning. As we focus on industry-specific English language lessons, we want to give you a head start with your skills. This week we are zeroing in on the past simple tense.
Our second of this unique blog series will highlight the importance of the past simple, along with how to use it and some of the common examples. You may also see it written and hear the “simple past” tense. If you do, it’s exactly the same tense, just a different way of saying it.
What is the Past Simple
The past simple tense is quite similar to the present simple tense. The difference between the two is that the past simple tense explains what happened in the past. As the name suggests, it is the simplest form of past tenses and is pretty straightforward.
The simple past tense shows that you are talking about something that has already happened. Unlike the past continuous tense, which is used to talk about past events that happened over a period of time, the simple past tense emphasizes that the action is finished.
Please note: You’ll notice that we’ll use words like “normally” and “majority”. There’s a reason! English is a tricky language, and in every rule, there will come an exception. You will come across these exceptions from time to time. When you do, please ask your tutor to explain. For the most part, unfortunately, it’s just a case of memorizing them.
When to Use it
The Past Simple tense can be used in three different ways:
- To describe an action once in the past. For example, I walked the dog yesterday.
- To describe an action that happened a number of times in the past. For example, They enjoyed their time together when they were younger.
- To describe something that was true in the past, but not in the present. For example, she lived in Spain for three years.
The Affirmative Form
As you can see from our examples above, normally the rule is that verbs in the past tense will end in -ed. With this rule, there are a lot of exceptions. These are called irregular verbs. You’ll see them pop up in this blog from our examples, but there is also a list below of the most common irregular verbs below. There’s actually no real method to this, but don’t worry, with conversational practice, you’ll get to know them quite well as the past simple tense is used every day.
The positive format should be used as follows:
Subject + verb + “ed” (or + “irregular verb”)
- I met my friends in the park.
- You walked right by me yesterday.
- He cycled to school every day.
- We studied for the test throughout the night.
- They closed the shop early.
As you can see in our examples, the exact time that the event occurred does not always need to be there. Using the past simple in a sentence implies that the event has ended so time expressions are not always in the sentence.
The Negative Form
In the negative form, it’s actually a little easier than the affirmative form. This is because there are no irregular verbs at all. The verb used is always in its original form. Why? Because we use the verb “didn’t” with the verb. Didn’t is the contraction word of “did not”. This is itself can be used as a negative form of the past simple tense. However, for any other verb, you will just add the verb afterward.
So, you would speak it as follows:
Subject + didn’t + verb
It’s as simple as that! (Pardon the pun)
- I didn’t go to the cinema last night.
- You didn’t need to follow me.
- She didn’t eat any of her dinners last week.
- We didn’t have a fun time at the party.
- They didn’t drive to work together for ages.
In these examples, you can see that some imply that the event occurred once and others happened multiple times. We did this on purpose to give you a variety of examples of the past simple tense so you can notice all the different ways to use it.
The Interrogative Form
The interrogative form shows the past simple tense in the question format. This can be used in both the affirmative and negative forms, and we’ll give you examples of both. There are two different ways to use the interrogative form in this instance. That is by using “did” or “didn’t” in front of the subject or by using any of the “wh” question words.
The first is quite easy and is written as follows:
Did/Didn’t + Subject + verb + ?
- Did I snore you last night?
- Didn’t you see the tv show?
- Did he fall over on his way to the store?
- Didn’t they want to join us at dinner?
- Did we read the same books when we were younger?
The “wh” questions can also be easy to use as there aren’t any irregular verbs. It’s quite similar to the above examples but will give you more of a range in your conversations. It should be written as follows:
“Wh” + did/didn’t + Subject + verb
- When did I tell you that story?
- Why didn’t you tell me?
- What did she do in college?
- Who did they choose to run the program?
- How didn’t we know that?
Irregular verbs only pop up in the positive or affirmative form. There are lots of them and we definitely won’t bore you with all of them, but just give you a few of the most common ones. From time to time, you may end up speaking and using an irregular verb in the -ed format by mistake. Don’t worry about this as native English speakers will know what you’re trying to say.
We’ll first walk you through the verb “to be”. This is the most common one and does not need the “didn’t” verb.
- I was / I wasn’t
- You were / You were not
- She was / He wasn’t
- They were / they weren’t
- We were / we weren’t
It also changes in the interrogative form as the “did” is dropped the verb “to be” comes first. You would not say “did I was?”. The correct structure is “Was I?”. For example, “Were you at the party?”
For the rest of these irregular verbs, you use them in the regular sense with “did”, but they do not have an “ed” ending.
To eat: I ate my dinner yesterday.
To drink: He drank lots of water after the football match.
To meet: They met with friends last week.
To buy: We bought a house.
To choose: I chose my major subjects for school.
To bring: They brought a nice fruit bowl.
To get: You got a promotion in work.
To say: They said that the movie was 3 hours long.
We hope you feel a little better about the past simple tense and are looking forward to learning about the rest of them! Keep an eye out on our Instagram and Facebook accounts to get the first look at our next blogs.