Simple Past Tense: Examples, Definition, Use, Formula, Structure, Rules and Exercises for English Learners

road signage showing future and past directions

English grammar is a perplexing subject to study. Before you can write a sentence, you first have to know the type, function, and meaning of every word. It is to ensure the clarity of your message. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, the best way to approach learning English is to study one topic at a time. In this blog, we will explore the simple past tense. To understand this topic holistically, we will learn it through simple past tense examples, uses, rules, and exercises.

What is the Definition and Meaning of Simple Past Tense?

In general, the simple past tense refers to actions, events, and habits that happened in the past. As the simple past tense definition suggests, there is only a single time reference to consider in this verb tense — it’s the past. For instance, you want to share with a friend about your day. Use the simple past tense to narrate your story since what you will tell already happened.

“The shoes I wore broke while I was walking around the city. I was embarrassed! So, I went to the mall to buy a new pair. I wore my new shoes immediately. As I was about to leave, someone called my name. I looked around and saw Jasmine running towards me. She’s my childhood friend who I haven’t seen in years. Jasmine invited me for a cup of coffee. I agreed because I wanted to catch up with her. We talked for hours, and it was like years did not go by between us.”

The highlighted words are examples of verbs in simple past tense. Read on to learn how to use those verbs in simple past tense sentences.

5 Tips to Best Study and Learn the Proper Usage of Simple Past Tense

Language learning is a complex task one cannot accomplish in a day. Attempting to do so would only frustrate you. The simple past tense may have the word “simple” in it, but there are many concepts you have to know to understand it fully. It’s not that simple, after all. However, there are tips you can apply in your learning journey to make the simple past tense simple to understand.

1. Select an appropriate material to use

To find study material, you must first know your level of English proficiency. There are six English proficiency levels: beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced, and proficient. Aligning books, videos, and other resources you will use with your proficiency will make it easy for you to understand the topic. Therefore, when you are starting to learn English, avoid textbooks used by those who are obtaining a doctorate in linguistics. Instead, select books for beginners or crash course videos on what is simple past tense.

2. Take note and summarize as you study

Learning is better when it is transferred. It is why note-taking is crucial when learning a new language. More than that, creating summaries of definitions, rules, usage, and formula strengthens your retention of the tenses. In note-taking, break down big topics into small chunks. You can also write your own sentences following the simple past tense rules.

3. Answer a simple past tense exercise

Always check your understanding when learning English. This step is important to know how well you know the topic. Additionally, it helps you identify your mistakes, making it easy for you to correct them. By the end of this blog, you can answer an exercise on simple past tense.

4. Find a study partner or a teacher to guide you

You may have to enroll in a language class to learn English or find a study buddy to help you stay on track. Learning with someone is proven to be effective. It’s because you can practice your English skills, have someone check your work, and gain feedback from them.

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How Do You Use the Simple Past Tense?

The simple past tense form uses V2 or the past tense of the verb. It indicates that an action already happened. There is three past tense verb conjugation to remember when converting main verbs into their past forms. Note that the accuracy in verbs is crucial in constructing simple past sentences.

Past Tense of “Be Verbs”

One type of auxiliary verb is the “be verb” or helping verb. The “be verbs” are the simple past helping verb in a sentence. In the simple present tense, these are “am,” “is,” and “are.” In the past tense, “am” and “is” becomes “was,” and the past form of “are” is “were.” Remember that “was” is for singular subjects, while “were” is for plural subjects. Moreover, “were” shows the conditional form of simple past sentences.

Here are five past simple tense examples using the “verbs”:

1. He was sad.

2. I was embarrassed when my shoes broke.

3. Lilly was here yesterday.

4. We were at my aunt’s townhouse.

5. They were ill due to food poisoning.

6. If I were you, I would celebrate that I passed the exam.

7. If I were you, I would be watchful of how I acted around them.

In the first two sentences, the helping verb “was” shows the state or feeling of its subject. It conveys that the subjects felt sad, and embarrassed at a period of time in the past. Sentences three to five show the condition of the subjects.

Meanwhile, the last two are conditional sentences or “if-sentences.” It indicates an assumption of what the subject would do or feel if in the situation. Note that there are past tense verbs in those sentences (passed and acted) to complete the condition.

Past Tense of Regular Verbs

Converting regular verbs into their past tense form of verbs is easy. The rule of thumb is to add the letter “d” for verbs ending in the letter “e.” If a verb ends in “y,” change the final letter to “ied.Other regular verbs add “ed” to their end. Here’s a list of the past tense of common regular verbs:

  • ask – asked
  • bake -baked
  • walk – walked
  • talk – talked
  • ban -banned
  • carry – carried
  • try – tried
  • rescue – rescued
  • note – noted
  • portray – portrayed

Paste Tense of Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs don’t follow the rule above. As such, it’s hard to determine or create a rule to follow in converting them into past tense. A common observation is a change in the middle of the vowel of irregular verbs such as drive-drove, run-ran, and freeze-froze. Here are more examples of irregular verbs in the past tense form:

  • eat – ate
  • teach – taught
  • begin – began
  • sell -sold
  • catch – caught
  • set – set
  • put -put
  • fly – flew
  • go -went
  • stick -stuck
All English Tenses.

Here are 15 examples of sentences in the Simple Past Tense:

Example of Simple Past Tense Sentences With “Be Verbs”

1. Her child was at the daycare center.

2. He was upset about missing the event.

3. My sister and her friend were late for their appointment.

4. If I were you, I would renegotiate the amount they offered to buy your house.

5. If I were Sandra, I would be happy that her father gave her a gift.

Example of Simple Past Tense Sentences With Regular Verbs

1. I asked my teacher about our reading activity.

2. My mother baked my birthday cake.

3. Casper walked home today.

4. The lawyers talked about their plan of action.

5. He was banned from visiting her house.

Example of Simple Past Tense Sentences With Irregular Verbs

1. I ate leftover pizza for dinner.

2. Dr. Liz taught Biology from 1999 to 2006.

3. Kevin began watching the movie without his brother.

4. We sold a parcel of land last year.

5. Martha caught her friend eating her packed lunch.

Structure of the Simple Past Tense

The simple past sentence structure is easy to remember. The main verb or root verb is transformed into its past tense form.

What is the Simple Past Tense formula?

Sentences in Simple Past Tense Format or Formula
Subject + (Past Tense of the Main Verb) + Rest of the Sentence

What are the sentence structures of the Simple Past Tense?

The affirmative sentence shows that the subject did the action (verb) in the past. Meanwhile, a negative sentence negates an action by using the word “not” in its structure. The interrogative form of the simple tense used the past tense of the verb “do,” which is “did.It functions to seek confirmation of whether the subject performed the verb. Therefore, it is answerable by “yes” or “no.

Sentence Structures of the Simple Past Tense
AffirmativeSubject + (Past Tense of the Main Verb) + Rest of the SentenceWe exercised our right to vote.
Maybell forgave her daughter.
They forced her to eat when she said she was full.
He allowed Dave to attend the camping.
Lyra fed the dog last night.
NegativeSubject + did not + Main Verb+ Rest of the SentenceShe did not attend the meeting.
The cat did not scratch me.
Pia did not find her missing jewelry.
Her daughter did not inform her about the situation.
My family did not pick apples at the farm.
InterrogativeDid + Subject + Main Verb + Rest of the SentenceDid you get my message?
Did he announce the good news yesterday?
Did Ms. Jones make her nervous?
Did your father assist in answering these forms?
Did Sally select the movie we watched?
English Simple Tense.

What are Simple Past Tense Usage?

Generally, the simple past tense shows actions in the past. But to understand the whole function of this verb tense, read the its five usage and simple past tense sentences in English below:

Shows Action Occurred Once in the Past

We use the past tense to show that the subject performed the action once in the past. For example, you experienced hiking in Santa Cruz Trek. You express it as, “I hiked at Santa Cruz Trek.” Even without a time expression, it is understood that you performed hiking once in the past. Here are more simple past tense example sentences:

  • I carried the groceries from the garage to the kitchen.
  • Meryl Streep portrayed her character well in the movie.
  • He cooked beef stew on Monday.
  • My family moved to Singapore in 1980.
  • My sister chose to celebrate her birthday at Disney land.

Indicates the Duration of an Action in the Past

The simple past tense functions to indicate how long an event lasted. Following this rule, the action must start and end in the past. A time reference is required to show the duration of an action. Here are five examples of past simple tense sentences that shows duration:

  • My brother studied here for four years, from 2010 to 2014.
  • He rented an apartment downtown from June to December.
  • World War II lasted for six years.
  • I used my cell phone for three years before replacing it.
  • John watched replays of football yesterday for an hour.

Expresses Habitual or Repeated Events in the Past

The simple form of the past tense conveys that the subject repeatedly did an action but stopped sometime in the past. They do not have that habit now or in the present. Read the examples of simple past tense sentences following this usage below:

  • My grandfather always read the newspaper when his eyes were healthy.
  • Bea ordered the same meal at this restaurant. It was her favorite.
  • He celebrated every birthday here until he moved to another city.
  • Carl and I studied at the library every weekend last semester.
  • I went to Colorado thrice for business conferences.

Conveys States or Conditions that Existed in the Past

Compared to progressive or continuous tenses, the simple past tense uses stative verbs. Those are verbs that show emotions, thoughts, opinions, and perceptions. Here are examples of simple past tense showing states or conditions:

    • The Italian sculptor admired the works of Michelangelo.
    • My father hated having to walk a mile to school when he was young.
    • Before instant messaging and cell phone calls, people wrote letters and waited for days for a response.
    • Wolly mammoths used to live in caves a long time ago.
    • She loved reading until it became a requirement.

35 Simple Past Tense Sentence Examples

Here are more simple past tense sentence example sentences following different sentence structures and usage:

Affirmative Sentences

1. He cried when his pet died.

2. Paige dealt with the consequences of her actions.

3. She identified the cause of the problem quickly.

4. The staff fixed the clothes at the department store.

5. I got two tickets for the show.

Negative Sentences

6. He did not grow a beard.

7. They did not guess the correct answer to the riddle.

8. Lilly did not keep her promise.

9. James did not bike to school.

10. She did not lend her cousin money.

Interrogative Sentences

11. Did the main character have a perfect simple life in the story?

12. Did Pearl book a hotel in advance?

13. Did you light a scented candle?

14. Did he connect your computer to the printer?

15. Did they sing your favorite song?

Shows Action Occurred Once in the Past

16. I was in New York when the 9/11 attack happened.

17. He corrected his mistake.

18. The lawyer spoke to the police.

19. Marry framed her graduation picture.

20. The vase fell off the table.

Describes the Duration of an Action in the Past

21. I listened to her story for an hour.

22. Ben Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean in 73 days in 1998.

23. The search for the missing dog lasted for five days.

24. They were married for a decade.

25. Gail finished her artwork after a month.

Expresses Habitual or Repeated Events in the Past

26. He gave her flowers every Valentine’s day.

27. Kevin ground coffee beans every morning until he switched to drinking tea.

28. Daisy marched around the room when throwing tantrums as a child.

29. My friends rode the train every day.

30. She occasionally sent gifts to her friends before they lost contact.

Conveys States or Conditions that Existed in the Past

31. The coffee tasted bitter before Jen added sugar.

32. December felt colder than the rest of the months.

33. My grandfather owned a Cadillac in the ’70s.

34. Kayla disliked how often she brought lunch to school.

35. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up.

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What are Common Mistakes English Students make when learning to use Simple Past Verbs & Words?

There are three common mistakes English learners tend to commit when using the simple past tense:

1. Using Improper Past Tense of Irregular Verbs

The past tense of the irregular form of verb is confusing since they have a special rule for conjugation. First, there are irregular verbs with the same base or root form and past tense. Examples are cut, hit, put, cost, hurt, and let —these are irregular verbs with the same root form and past tense. Second, some irregular verbs change their vowels into “a” to form their past tenses such as come-came, swim-swam, and run-ran. Lastly, the most common endings of irregular verbs are “-t,” and “-ght.” Some verbs following this are keep-kept, sweep-swept, leave-left, buy-bought, catch-caught, and fight-fought.

2. Confusing Simple Past Tense With Past Perfect Tense

Both simple past and past perfect tenses talk about actions in the past. That’s why English learners often confuse one for the other. However, the past perfect tense shows actions that were “perfected” or completed before another action in the past. To express this, it used the auxiliary verb “had,” with the past tense of the verb. Meanwhile, simple past tense only uses the past tense of the verb, and indicating time periods, expressions, or adverbs of time is optional.

3. Switching Tenses When Narrating

One activity English learners do to improve their skills in storytelling or writing. It is why there are essays or speaking activities as forms of assessment. The rule of thumb when doing this is to use one tense of the verb. For instance, your teacher would ask you to share your favorite childhood memory. In this event, it is proper to use the simple past tense and avoid switching to the present tense.

How Can Language Learners Avoid Making Common Mistakes?

There are twelve tenses in English, and it’s normal to confuse one for the other and commit mistakes. However, every mistake is avoidable and can be corrected. Start by memorizing the formula of the tenses to avoid mixing it up with other tenses. As for the simple tense, always use the past tense of the verb, nothing more and nothing less. 

The next step would be to familiarize yourself with regular and irregular verbs. List down at least ten verbs a day and use them in sentences. By doing this, you can avoid the grammatical mistake of improper verb tense conjugation. Instead of saying, “I selled my phone yesterday.” you can correctly express it by changing the wrong verb to “sold.”

The best way to start learning is by reading and observing. Pick up an English book or blog and observer the proper grammar and usage of tenses. You can do this by revisiting the examples listed above. Through this, you can imitate the formula of the tenses to avoid making mistakes.

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The Simple Past Tense: Checking Your Understanding

Below we have provided present continuous tense examples with answers.

Simple Past Tense Exercises:

Activity 1. Place the correct past tense of the regular verb to complete the sentences below:

1. The teacher ___________ her students to form a group of five. (instruct)

2. The dog ____________ the ball after I threw it. (fetch)

3. He _____________ on his parents until he was eighteen. (depend)

4. We _____________ our waste to fight climate change. (recycle)

5. Mina ______________ a small amount that she hasn’t paid yet. (borrow)

Activity 2. Place the correct past tense of the irregular verb to complete the sentences below:

1. The chef ___________ five eggs when he created a whipping cream. (beat)

2. We __________ the news about your success. (hear)

3. They argued that Joseph Wilson Swan __________ the light bulb first. (build)

4. My father ________ Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin. (teach)

5. I was not sure if he ___________ the lesson. (understand)


Activity 1. Sentences with regular verbs and simple past tense.

1. The teacher instructed her students to form a group of five.

2. The dog fetched the ball after I threw it.

3. He depended on his parents until he was eighteen.

4. We recycled our waste to fight climate change.

5. Mina borrowed a small amount that she hasn’t paid yet.

Activity 2. Sentences with irregular verbs simple past tense.

1. The chef beat five eggs when he created a whipping cream.

2. We heard the news about your success.

3. They argued that Joseph Wilson Swan built the light bulb first.

4. My father taught Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin.

5. I was not sure if he understood the lesson.

Common Verbs in the Simple Past Tense

Familiarize yourself with some of the verbs in the simple past tense in this table: 

Regular VerbsSimple Past TenseIrregular VerbsSimple Past Tense
Main/Base VerbPast TenseMain/Base VerbPast Tense

Here are some more examples of Simple Past Tense verbs in action:

  • I packed my suitcase.
  • It felt wrong to leave.
  • The magician tricked the children.
  • They chose the wrong option.
  • We searched for the cheapest flight.
  • Peter wrote a letter to his sister.
  • He accepted defeat and moved on.
  • June never touched your phone.
  • Bret won the lottery.
  • She changed her mind at the last moment.


The simple past tense definition and examples above serve as your guide in using this verb tense in your daily conversations. Remember to always use the past tense of the verb in completing past simple tense sentences. While it can be confusing, the time reference of this verb tense is always in the past.

Learn more about English verb tenses by reading the LillyPad blog!

Frequently Asked Questions for Simple Past Tense:

What is simple past tense with examples?

The simple past tense meaning is actions or events that happened at some point in the past. Here are simple past sentence examples for your reference:
I washed the clothes last weekend.
Willy led the camping activities for the kids.
We invited 50 people to the event.

How do you convert main verbs to simple past-verb forms?

Converting the main verbs into their past tense form differs for regular and irregular verbs. For regular verbs, we generally add “d,” “ed,” or “ied” at the end of the action word. As for irregular verbs, there is no rule to follow, but the common observation is changing the vowel at the middle of the root verb, such as lay-laid, grind-ground, drive-drove, and blow-blew.

What are the uses of simple past tense?

The simple past tense has four uses, those are to: (1) show an action that happened once in the past, (2) indicate the duration of action, (3) express habitual or repeated actions, and (4) convey past states or conditions.

What is the simple past tense formula?

The simple past tense follows this sentence structure: Subject + (Past Tense of the Main Verb) + Rest of the Sentence. 

Can you use stative verbs in the simple past tense?

Yes. Stative verbs are used in the simple past tense to show past states or conditions. Compared to progressive tenses of verbs, one function of simple tenses is to express a state, emotion, thought, and opinion.

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Valentina Gagliardi

Valentina Gagliardi

Valentina has always been a teacher at heart. After spending eight years teaching college-level English, she realised that her true passion was helping people learn and grow – especially when it came to learning English. She firmly believes that in order for language learning to be successful, it’s important to create a comfortable and welcoming environment where students feel safe to experiment and take risks. When she’s not writing for the Lillypad community, Valentina loves travelling, reading and going for long walks with her dog Freddy.

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