I use the simple past tense when talking about actions and processes that started and finished before the present moment. The best example I can give is to picture describing what you did yesterday morning. The simple past is one of the most straightforward tenses in the English language, but you need to know a few rules to master it. Keep reading as I explain what the simple past tense is and how to use it in a sentence.
What Is Simple Past Tense?
Mostly, you can use the simple past tense by taking the root form of the verb (its infinitive form without “to”) and adding “-ed” at the end. However, when dealing with an irregular form, you must learn the correct past simple form by heart for each verb, as you can’t use the same formula for regular verbs.
The simple past is an English verb tense used to describe an action that started and finished in the past. Whether it was the day before yesterday or a hundred years ago, it can be used to describe any time in mind. It is not to be confused with past continuous, a tense that describes past events that occurred over a longer period.
Here’s a great example that illustrates the difference between the two:
- Past simple: We got home just in time for dinner.
- Past continuous: My sister was writing her homework.
How Do You Make Simple Past Tense?
The simple past tense takes the verb’s root and adds “-ed” at the end. For example, here are some strong verbs in their simple past tense:
- Walk – walked
- Start – started
- Play – played
However, keep in mind that the above rule only works if the verb is regular.
Irregular verbs don’t adhere to the same tense rules regarding past tense and participle. Sadly, each irregular verb is different, and people who want to master the English language will have to learn the forms of each verb. As a writer, this was a key skill for me to master, but it’s important for everyday use as well.
Common Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense
As mentioned earlier, irregular verbs don’t follow the same tense rules as regular ones. There are roughly 200 irregular verbs in the English language. I know, crazy, right?
Here are some simple past tense examples of irregular verbs:
- Awake – awoke
- Blow – blew
- Become – became
- Cut – cut
- Drink – drank
- Forgive – forgave
- Grow – grew
- Keep – kept
- Make – made
- Read – read
- Sing – sang
- Stand – stood
- Think – thought
Why We Use the Simple Past
I use simple past to talk about finished actions. I made a few examples that show how to use it:
- When you need to talk about something that happened and have a time frame (this morning, yesterday, two years ago, etc.)
- When you need to talk about something that happened in the distant past (“Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.”)
- When you’ve used another tense and want to introduce a finished action (“I’ve been studying Spanish for eight years. Last year, I went to Spain.”)
- When you’re looking to describe a list of events and can use the past continuous for the background (“We went to a restaurant. People were having a good time while music was playing in the background.”)
Simple Past Tense Rule
Making the simple past tense for regular verbs is very easy. Just take the infinitive form of the verb (minus “to”) and add “-ed” as a suffix.
The rules are straightforward if you want to ask a question using the simple past tense. The formula for asking questions in the past tense is: did + subject + verb root.
- Did your brother finish his homework last night?
- Did you have a good time?
- Where did the dog run off to?
- How did you manage to finish everything in time?
- Why didn’t you ask for help?
If you want to form the simple past negative, simply use “did not” + the verb’s root. Thankfully, the same rule applies to both regular and irregular verbs.
Here are some negative past simple sentences:
- He missed the test because he didn’t wake up in time.
- You didn’t take the garbage out this morning, did you?
- I didn’t expect the temperature to be this low in September.
If you need to form a negative sentence using the verb “to be,” you don’t have to add the auxiliary “did.” For sentences that have singular subjects, you can use “was not.” For plural subjects, the correct form is “were not.”
Some examples I can think of:
- I was not happy with the outcome./I wasn’t happy with the outcome.
- She was not there when I needed her the most./She wasn’t there at a time when I needed her the most.
- We were not ready to leave the competition empty-handed./We weren’t ready to leave the competition empty-handed
I use the simple past tense when describing actions from the past. They could be things you did yesterday, two months ago, or back in 1971. While it’s easy to learn how to form and use the simple past tense, irregular verbs don’t follow the same rules, and you should learn the individual forms for as many as you can.