English The Simple Past Tense

Overview

The simple past tense is the one-word past tense of verbs in English. This module looks at regular and irregular verbs in the simple past.

Bringing up the past

To form the past tense with regular verbs we use the base form of the verb and add the ending “-ed”.

pasttensereg verb

We cannot use the ending “-ed” with irregular verbs. They follow a different conjugation table.

Examples:

eat (ate), begin (began), break (broke), buy (bought), drive (drove), go (went), know (knew), leave (left), make (made)

ate a hamburger yesterday.
He drove home last night.
We went to the game last week.
She knew him from earlier.
left after lunch.
You made a mistake.

The Verb “to be” 

To form the past tense of “to be”, we use “was” and “were”.

pasttense 1

Examples:
I was happy.
You were honest.
He was funny.

To form the past tense of “to be” in the negative, we simply add “not”.

pasttensenegative

Examples:
I was not happy.
You were not honest.
He was not funny.

Questions with “was” and “were”:

questionswithwasandwere 1

Question: Was I happy?      Answer: Yes, I was.
Question: Was he honest?  Answer: No, he was not.
Question: Were they late?  Answer: Yes, they were.

Simple Past with “do”

To form a negative, or to ask and answer questions in the Past Tense we need to use “to do” + a verb in the infinitive.

Negative:

didnew

Questions:

did2

Short Answers:

shortanswers did

Questions with “Wh-” question words: 

whpasttensequestions

Simple Past Negative Examples

  • I didn’t go to school last night.
  • You didn’t understand.
  • She didn’t eat dinner yesterday.
  • He didn’t go to work.
  • We didn’t have fun last night.
  • They didn’t call you.

Past Simple Question Examples

  • Did you eat dinner?
  • Did he go to work?
  • Did he have lunch?
  • When did they go on vacation?

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
Reading:
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
Listening:
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.