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DEFINITION OF THE SIMPLE PAST TENSE

The simple past tense, sometimes called the preterite, is used to talk about a completed action in
a time before now. The simple past is the basic form of past tense in English. The time of the
action can be in the recent past or the distant past and action duration is not important.

FUNCTIONS OF THE "SIMPLE PAST"

The "simple past" is used to talk about an action that ended in a time before the current one. The
duration is not relevant. The time in which the action is located may be the recent past or a distant
past.

Be, do, have and irregular verbs in the Simple Past

How to use special verbs in the Simple Past

Many frequently used verbs are irregular. You find these words in the appendix of a dictionary or
in your English book. You must learn these words by heart.

1. Be as a main verb

Pronouns Affirmative sentences Negative sentences Questions


I, he, she, it I was in Rome. I was not in Rome. Was I in Rome?
we, you, they They were in Rome. They were not in Were they in Rome?
Rome.

2. Do as a main verb

Pronouns Affirmative sentences Negative sentences Questions


I, he, she, it, we, you, I did exercises. I did not do exercises. Did I do exercises?
they

3. Have as a main verb

Pronouns Affirmative sentences Negative sentences Questions


I, he, she, it, we, you, I had a book. I did not have books. Did I have books?
they

Diagram of the Simple Past

A diagram to visualize the Simple Past


1. We use the Simple Past when we talk about something which started and finished in the past.

2. We use the Simple Past to describe a series of actions in the past.

3. We use the Simple Past (red) together with the Past Progressive (grey). The action in the Simple
Past interrupted the action in the Past Progressive (the one which was in progress).

Form of the Simple Past

How do we form the Simple Past?

We form the Simple Past:

 With regular verbs: infinitive + -ed


 With irregular verbs: 2nd column of the table of the irregular verbs

1.1. Affirmative sentences in the Simple Past – regular verbs

 I played with a ball.


 You played with a ball.
 He played with a ball.
 She played with a ball.
 It played with a ball.
 We played with a ball.
 You played with a ball.
 They played with a ball.

1.2. Affirmative sentences in the Simple Past – irregular verbs


 I went home.
 You went home.
 He went home.
 She went home.
 It went home.
 We went home.
 You went home.
 They went home.

Obs: Use the same form of the verb every time regardless the subject.

2.1. Negative sentences in the Simple Past – regular verbs

 I did not play with a ball.


 You did not play with a ball.
 He did not play with a ball.
 She did not play with a ball.
 It did not play with a ball.
 We did not play with a ball.
 You did not play with a ball.
 They did not play with a ball.

2.1. Negative sentences in the Simple Past – irregular verbs

 I did not go home.


 You did not go home.
 He did not go home.
 She did not go home.
 It did not go home.
 We did not go home.
 You did not go home.
 They did not go home.

Use the auxiliary did (Simple Past of do) every time regardless the subject.

Pronunciation of -ed in the Simple Past

How to pronounce -ed in the Simple Past

In the Simple Past we add -ed to regular verbs. Be careful pronouncing the verbs:
1. Verbs ending in -ed preceded by a voiceless consonant [p, k, f, ʃ, ʧ, s, θ] → speak [t].
The -e is silent.
Example: I stop – I stopped [stɒpt]

2. Verbs ending in -ed preceded by a voiced consonant [b, g, v, ʒ, ʤ, z, ð, l, m and n] or a vowel →


peak [d].
The -e is silent.
Example: I clean – I cleaned [kli:nd]

3. Verbs ending in -ed preceded by [t] or [d] → speak [ɪd].


-e changes to [ɪ] (otherwise the ending could not be heard)
Example: I visit – I visited [vɪzɪtɪd]

Short/contracted forms and long forms in the Simple Past

How to use short/contracted forms with the Simple Past?

We often use short/contracted forms of auxiliaries in spoken English. The Simple Past is formed
with a main verb, so short/contracted forms are only used with negative forms.

1. Affirmative forms

Pronouns Long forms Contracted forms


I went
I, he, she, it, we, you, they you went not possible
he went
they went

2. Negative forms

Pronouns Long forms Contracted forms


I did not go I didn't go
I, he, she, it, we, you, they you did not go you didn't go
he did not go he didn't go

Signal words for the Simple Past

What are signal words for the Simple Past?

These words tell you what tense you have to use. For the Simple Past these are expressions of
time in the past.

 yesterday
 last week
 a month ago
 in 2010
 this morning

Here are some examples:

 What did you do in your last holidays?


 His parents married in 2004.
 I didn't text my friend yesterday.
 Did you miss the bus this morning?

SPELLING OF VERBS IN THE SIMPLE PAST

- How to spell regular and irregular verbs in the Simple Past

You have to know all forms of irregular verbs very well. For the Simple Past you need the form of
the verb which can be found in the 2nd column of the table of irregular verbs.

go → went → gone
Add -ed with regular verbs:
regular verbs → infinitive + -ed

Sometimes the exceptions in spelling when adding -ed:

1. Adding -ed
1.1. Consonant after a short, stressed vowel at the end of the word

Double the consonant.

Stop – stopped
Swap – swapped

We do not double the consonant if the vowel is not stressed:


Benefit – benefited (Here we stress the first e, not the i.)

In British English we double one -l at the end of the word:


Travel – travelled

1.2. One -e at the end of the word

Only add -d.

Love – loved
Save – saved
1.3. Verbs ending in -y

Change -y to -i after a consonant. Then add -ed.


Worry – worried

Add -ed with verbs ending in -y preceded by a vowel (a, e, i, o, u):


Play – played

Use of the Simple Past

When do we use the Simple Past?

The Simple Past is used to talk about actions or situations in the past. It is also called Past Simple.

1. Action finished in the past (single or repeated)

 I visited Berlin last week.


 Andrew watched TV yesterday.
 My friends went to Paris a week ago.
 My parents ate a lot of junk food when they were young.

2. Series of completed actions in the past

 First I got up, and then I had breakfast.


 On Sunday my brother and I went to a nice lake. There we met our friends. We swam in the
warm water and played volleyball in the afternoon. Too bad that we had to go home in the
evening. We didn't want to go to school on Monday.

3. Together with the Past Progressive/Continuous – the Simple Past interrupted an action which
was in progress in the past.

They were playing cards when the telephone rang.

1st action → Past Progressive → were playing


2nd action → Simple Past → rang

While Dennis was reading outside, it started to rain.

1st action → Past Progressive → was reading


2nd action → Simple Past → started

Simple past affirmative sataments


The simple past tense, sometimes called the preterite, is used to talk about a completed action in
a time before now. The simple past is the basic form of past tense in English. The time of the
action can be in the recent past or the distant past and action duration is not important.

EXAMPLES

 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

 frequency: often, sometimes, always


I sometimes walked home at lunchtime.
I often brought my lunch to school.
 a definite point in time: last week, when I was a child, yesterday, six weeks ago
We saw a good film last week.
Yesterday, I arrived in Geneva.
She finished her work at seven o'clock
I went to the theatre last night
 An indefinite point in time: the other day, ages ago, a long time ago People lived in caves a
long time ago.
 She played the piano when she was a child.