Simple Past

What is Simple Past?

The Simple Past tense (or Past Simple tense in some books) is used for actions, events, and conditions that began and ended or were completed in the past. For example, “Ezra talked to the shopkeeper.” In this sentence, Ezra started and finished the act of talking sometime in the past.

The following is the formula or structure when using the simple past tense:

Subject + Verb + ed/past tense form of irregular verbs + Rest of the sentence

The simple past tense describes things that took place in the recent or distant past. However, it doesn’t pertain to unfinished time periods and the length of time that the action occurred isn’t significant. We can use the simple past with adverbs of frequency such as “sometimes”, “often”, “never” and so on. We can also use a definite time reference like “last week,” “when I was a child,” “2 days ago”, etc., or an expression of indefinite time such as “some time ago, “once upon a time”, etc.

Let’s take a look at the following examples:

1. Yesterday, the postman came by around noon.
2. Callum wanted to buy a new phone for his birthday. 
3. Wendy preferred to talk about the terms of the contract in person.
4. When I was in high school, we cooked our own lunch because Mom was busy.
5. They confirmed that they would be renting the cottage for a week.

Simple Past Rules

In this segment, we will study two tables pertaining to the simple past tense. First, let’s take a look at different types of verbs and how they change form (spelling):

“Be” VerbsAuxiliary or helping verbs can function as main verbs in sentences. They change forms according to their tenses. When using the simple past, am and is become was, and are becomes were– The dog was sick yesterday.
– Cillian was here a while ago.
– I was present at the meeting.
Regular VerbsVerbs change form when used in the simple past tense. Converting regular verbs to their simple past forms is easy.

The letter “d” is added at the end of verbs that end in “e”; with a few exceptions (verbs that end with a vowel and the letter “y” such as portray, which only requires “ed” to be added at the end), most verbs that end in “y” change their final letters to “ied“; and “ed” is added to other regular verbs.

Some regular verbs that end in a vowel and a consonant, such as “ban,” require the final consonant to be doubled before adding “ed.” Ban becomes banned.
– They allowed cameras inside the building.
– David carried the groceries from the garage. 
– Grandma baked her famous pecan pie for the event.
Irregular VerbsIrregular verbs follow a different rule. These are verbs that completely change form when used in the past tense. There are no specific conversion rules, except for some verbs where the vowels located in the middle change when used in the past tense such as ran from run, drove from drive, and so on. The rest change forms in other ways. The only method to master them is to memorize verb lists.– The plane flew too close to the houses.
– We ate Thai food for dinner.
– Jessie bought a new pair of pants for the staff party.
Table for Simple Past Rules

Now let’s take a look at the rules when using the simple past tense in different sentence structures:

(Important: Native English speakers normally use the contraction “didn’t” in conversation or informal settings. We’ll use this contraction in the following simple past tense formulas. Spelling it out as “did not” is also correct, but this practice is usually reserved when using English in formal contexts.)

Sentence StructureFormulaExamples
NegativeSubject + didn’t + Root form of verb + Rest of the sentence.– Decca didn’t take a bus to the venue.
– Maki didn’t follow the test instructions.
– Keiran didn’t bring the ice box.
InterrogativeDid + Subject + Root form of verb + Rest of the sentence?Did the mailman come by?
Did Luigi break in the shoes as I asked him?
Did you know about the change of agenda?
Interrogative NegativeDidn’t + Subject + Root form of verb + Rest of the sentence? (note: the formula “Did + subject + not + Root form of the verb + Rest of the sentence” is often used to connote emotions such as disbelief, astonishment, shock, etc.)Didn’t you read this section of the contract?
Didn’t Bediones pass the preliminary test?
Didn’t she have a backup plan in case something like this happened?
Interrogative with Question WordQuestion word + did + Subject + Root form of the verb + rest of the sentence?What time did Brenda pick up the kids?
Where did you see the sign that the dress was on sale?
How did Jemimah manage to clean up the mess?
Table for Simple Past Formulas
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Examples of Simple Past Tense Verbs

1. Affirmative Sentence

  • We already paged him 10 minutes ago.
  • The ambulance skidded on the slippery curb.
  • Olly smiled when he received the notification.
  • He lied when I asked him about his whereabouts.
  • They stored the samples in a very secure place.

2. Negative Sentence

  • Aleko didn’t want anyone to know about his disability.
  • They didn’t transfer boats when they arrived at the docks.
  • Tae-Young didn’t think the documents were necessary.
  • Desantis didn’t ride the gondola because he was scared of falling out.
  • The performance didn’t capture the audience’s interest.

3. Interrogative (affirmative)

  • Did your family stay at the duplex?
  • Did Viviana do the laundry?
  • Did she clean behind the refrigerator?
  • Did they want the software to be compressed further?
  • Did you stick to the job because it’s close to your house?

4. Interrogative (negative)

  • Didn’t Ernesto earn his right to present his own business pitch?
  • Didn’t she apply for the program last year?
  • Didn’t Nari call the mechanic to look at her car?
  • Didn’t Jackie dream of being an astronaut when she was 6?
  • Didn’t the students hear the announcement this morning?

Simple Past Exercises with Answers

Exercise on Simple Past

Change the verbs in parentheses into their correct simple past form to complete the sentences.

1. Rallyn (run) _______________ up the stairs to check the attic.

2. I (not/drink) _______________ alcohol at the party.

3. Where (you/wait) _______________? I couldn’t find you.

4. (You/not/go) _______________ to the second floor to ask around?

5. Melissa (get) _______________ on the bus at the stop near the monument.

6. We (not/need) _______________ to change vehicles during the trip.

7. What time (they/assemble) _______________ for the parade yesterday?

8. Unfortunately, they (leave) _______________ as soon as we showed up.

9. (You/see) _______________ the painting that he did of our house?

10. Who (Shay/meet) _______________ outside the restaurant?


1. Rallyn ran up the stairs to check on the attic.

2. I didn’t drink alcohol at the party.

3. Where did you wait? I couldn’t find you.

4. Didn’t you go to the second floor to ask around?

5. Melissa got on the bus at the stop near the monument.

6. We didn’t need to change vehicles during the trip.

7. What time did they assemble for the parade yesterday?

8. Unfortunately, they left as soon as we showed up.

9. Did you see the painting that he did of our house?

10. Who did Shay meet outside the restaurant?

Simple Past List

Here is a list of regular and irregular verbs and their simple past forms:

Regular VerbsIrregular Verbs
open – opened
mix – mixed
appear – appeared
cry – cried
suit – suited
echo – echoed
move – moved
need – needed
paint – painted
wait – waited
clean – cleaned
kiss – kissed
laugh – laughed
introduce – introduced
guess – guessed
fall – fell
begin – began
draw – drew
build – built
know – knew
tell – told
sing – sang
get – got
mean – meant
forgive – forgave
seek – sought
hold – held
teach – taught
go – went
catch – caught
Table for Regular and Irregular Verbs Simple Past Forms

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

Learning about verbs can be a complex task. Initially, you must obtain some level of expertise in understanding tenses to use them well. Tenses are verb expressions that portray activities, events, states of being, or conditions at several points in time. The main types of tenses are present, past, and future. Furthermore, each type is divided into 4 more classifications: simple tense, continuous or progressive tense, perfect tense, and perfect continuous or progressive tense. There’s a total of 12 tenses in the English language. Verbs may appear alike but each conjugation follows particular linguistic guidelines. A solid comprehension of their functions is necessary to reduce decrease or erase confusion.

Correct tense usage allows you to present your ideas accurately as each of them carries a meaning that distinguishes it from the others. For example, the sentences “I am playing a game”, “I played a game”, and “I will play a game” have distinctive meanings. First, “am playing” describes an action that is taking place now. Second, “played” expresses an action that already happened. Lastly, “will play” refers to an action that has yet to take place.

Despite there being 12 verb tenses in the English language, only 4 tenses are typically used in conversational English or general communication: the 3 simple tenses (simple present, simple past, and simple future) and the present continuous tense. This isn’t to say that the rest have no significance. Studying the other 8 tenses is useful for more advanced language requirements like language tasks for academic and professional purposes.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand past progressive, simple future and future progressive.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

Many English language learners have a difficult time speaking at length. During a long speech, as in storytelling or giving explanations, they shift tenses unconsciously. The main reasons for this are first, they’re making direct translations of their sentences from their native language (some languages don’t change verb forms); second, they’ve created habits in language use that are grammatically wrong. Third, their proficiency isn’t enough for self-correction. Let’s look at the following sentences and analyze what’s wrong with them.

Common ErrorsCorrect FormReason
I did went to the dentist to have my tooth checked.I went to the dentist to have my tooth checked.

did go to the dentist to have my tooth checked.
The word “did” can’t be used together with the simple past form of verbs. We use the form “did + base form of verb” to put great emphasis or exaggeration on the action, but this is used in specific contexts and with a high level of skill. It’s not the norm. The correct form of the past progressive is was/were + verb (-ing).
When we ate dinner there, the restaurant had an extensive spread for their buffet and there is a live band.When we ate dinner there, the restaurant had an extensive spread for their buffet and there was a live band.We don’t mix tenses when we are telling one story. All the verbs have to be uniform.
Luke went on to tell us about how he was earning so much money and how he had found it so difficult to say no to some offers. Luke went on to tell us about how he was earning so much money and how he found it so difficult to say no to some offers.The example here is a compound sentence with two simple sentences joined by the conjunction and. The verbs for both simple sentences should only follow one tense. The same goes for complex sentences.
Simple Past Common Errors Table

Learning Strategies and Best Practices with the Simple Past Tense

The most effective learning strategies for simple past tense are:

  • Learning the basic rules of the simple past tense.
  • Practicing consistently by applying the tense in daily English interactions.
  • Familiarize yourself with the common errors so you know how to avoid them.
Learning StrategiesExplanation
Language ListsLearning resources such as lists, tables, and charts can show English grammar rules in a straightforward and concise manner. They are extremely useful, not only stripped down to their fundamentals but can also be used for comparisons, references, and review easily. They are valuable tools to develop your understanding of verbs and their tenses and ultimately improve your writing and speaking skills. 
Language ExposureLiterary, audio, and video materials show how native speakers use English in various contexts and topics. They can help widen your background knowledge. A considerable amount of exposure can improve your fluency in a meaningful way as you’ll be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas effectively, especially where time is concerned. Several learning experts attest that subconscious consumption of media is also helpful, but it’s recommended to listen and watch with purpose. Many language learners have accomplished high ranks in English communication through osmosis and mimicry.
Language ExchangeAn English learner can easily be a “grammar expert” but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are well-versed in comprehension and speaking. To do this and create a balance, you need to make an effort to use what you’ve learned in actual speech. English conversation is the best path to fluency. Language theory without practical use is grossly limited. Talk whenever you have the chance, both with native and non-native English speakers. In time, you’ll develop your skills naturally and express yourself verbally without much difficulty.
Simple Past Learning Strategies Table
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Simple Past Tense Frequently Asked Questions

Using verb tenses inconsistently is a major “bad” habit that English students develop. This could stem from direct translations of their mother tongue, especially when their native language does not have tenses in its framework. Inconsistent verb usage can lead to a breakdown in communication. Here is an example of using verbs without consistency:

“We had been hiking down a steep hill. Suddenly, it rains heavily. Then we walked with a difficult time.”

If your first reaction to the story was “eh?”, then you understand that using the right tenses is important. To communicate effectively, you need to be aware if you have the same habit and make an effort to change it.

The short answer is no. English can be very technical. Verb tense rules become very particular in differentiating each of their functions. But in most cases, people involved in conversations know what their topic is and can follow the flow of their discussion even without time expressions. 

The simplest examples can be found in this article. You can check some of its various segments and review them.

To explain further, a simple example of any tense follows the basic formula, which is the same verb structure applied in affirmative or positive sentences. In other words, all past tense structures in their affirmative sentence formulas can make simple examples.

As the main verb, “has” is in its present tense conjugation and is used for singular nouns. “Have” is used for plural subjects. Both are used as auxiliary verbs in present perfect, present perfect continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous tenses. “Had” is their counterpart in the past tense. As a main verb, it is in its simple past form.

The main types are the present tense, past tense, and future tense. Each of these is further classified into 4 aspects: simple, continuous or progressive, perfect, and perfect continuous, which makes 12 tenses in total.

It’s crucial to know the different conjugations of tenses by heart. You’ll improve your English proficiency faster once you’ve memorized these concepts. Take a look at each example of past present and future tense:

Present: I ride the bus. My Mom doesn’t drive. They attend night classes.
Past: I rode the bus. My Mom didn’t drive. They attended night classes.
Future: I will the bus. My Mom won’t drive. They will attend night classes.

For more tenses lists, charts, and tables, complete with grammar rules and real-world examples, the blog has more pages with dedicated content for each of all 12 tenses. Do check out related pages and feel free to explore our blog. 

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