The Past Simple tense (or Simple Past), sometimes called the preterit in English grammar, is a highly used verb tense for referring to finished past activities. At its core, the Past Simple is used to refer to isolated actions that started and were completed at a well-defined time in the past. To know more, read these sections of our review on the Past Simple in English.
4. Common time expressions
5. Negative sentences and question types
The slogan encapsulates the basic meaning of the Past Simple, so use it when hesitating about what verb form to choose in your English writing. Remembering one short slogan can help you navigate through all the grammar rules it relates to.
Read through the table and try to understand the connection between the usages and the slogan.
Watch out !
• If the action occurred in the past, but is still true ( I have been teaching grammar for 10 years.) or happened at an undefined time in the past ( I have seen some good French movies recently.), you need the Present Perfect tenses.
• Stative verbs (appear, realize, love, sound) are more commonly used with simple tenses rather than with progressive tenses.
Advanced Usage of the Past Simple:
As its name suggests, the Past Simple form is a simple one-word verb, composed of the Past Simple or V2 (preterit) form for all persons. Unlike other languages, there are no inflectional verb endings for the different persons in English past tenses. However, since English verbs include a large group of commonly used irregular verbs, which have a variety of unique Past Simple forms, you have to invest time and effort in learning these irregular verbs.
• A regular verb in the Past Simple has an ed ending for all persons.
play-play ed, work-work ed, stay-stay ed, listen-listen ed
• An irregular verb in the Past Simple changes its form, usually with a vowel change. Irregular verbs can be grouped according to certain change patterns, which helps to memorize them.
speak-spoke, eat-ate, see-saw, fly-flew, think-thought
*Remember: V1=base form, V2=Past Simple, V3=Past Participle, Ving=Present Participle
• One verb in English has special forms in the Past Simple:
My mother was a teacher for 30 years, and my grandparents were both college professors.
The Past Simple is used with time expressions (in blue) informing about when things exactly happened.
Watch out !
Note that in negative past sentences, the main verb is in its base form and not in the V2 Past Simple form, as the past ending is attached to the auxiliary verb do, resulting in did.
This has been a review about the usage and formation of the Past Simple tense in English grammar. It is highly used to refer to actions accomplished and finished in defined periods in the past that are over. Reviewing the rules is not enough to make you use it properly. The more you pick it up in your reading, and more importantly, use it in your writing, the better you will use it.
Grammar Guide Index
Parts of Speech - General Overview
Singular and Plural Nouns
English Adjectives - Basic Terms
English Verbs (Part 1) - Basic Terms
English Verbs (Part 2) - More Terms
The Verb To Be
Negative Sentences and Question Formation
The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 1)
The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 2)
The Verb Tenses in English
Spelling Rules for the Verb Tenses
The Past Simple Tense
The Past Progressive Tense
Sentence Structure (Part 1) - Basic Clause Structure
Sentence Structure (Part 2) - Phrases
Sentence Structure (Part 3) - Clauses
Sentence Structure (Part 4) - Sentence Types