Simple Past

SIMPLE PAST

BE CAREFUL! The simple past in English may look like a tense in your own language, but the meaning may be different.

1. Simple past, form

Regular verbs: base+ed
e.g. walked, showed, watched, played, smiled, stopped

Irregular verbs: see list in verbs

Simple past, be, have, do:

Subject
Verb

Be

Have

Do

I

was

had

did

You

were

had

did

He, she, it

was

had

did

We

were

had

did

You

were

had

did

They

were

had

did

Affirmative
a. I was in Japan last year
b. She had a headache yesterday.
c. We did our homework last night.

Negative and interrogative
Note: For the negative and interrogative simple past form of “do” as an ordinary verb, use the auxiliary “do”, e.g. We didn’t do our homework last night. The negative of “have” in the simple past is usually formed using the auxiliary “do”, but sometimes by simply adding not or the contraction “n’t”.
The interrogative form of “have” in the simple past normally uses the auxiliary “do”.

  • They weren’t in Rio last summer.
  • We hadn’t any money.
  • We didn’t have time to visit the Eiffel Tower.
  • We didn’t do our exercises this morning.
  • Were they in Iceland last January?
  • Did you have a bicycle when you were a boy?
  • Did you do much climbing in Switzerland?

Simple past, regular verbs

Affirmative
Subject verb + ed  
I washed  
Negative
Subject did not infinitive without to
They didn’t visit …
Interrogative
Did subject infinitive without to
Did she arrive…?
Interrogative negative
Did not subject infinitive without to
Didn’t you like..?

 

Example: to walk, simple past.

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I walked I didn’t walk Did I walk?
You walked You didn’t walk Did you walk?
He,she,it walked He didn’t walk Did he walk?
We walked We didn’t walk Did we walk?
You walked You didn’t walk Did you walk?
They walked They didn’t walk Did they walk?

Note: For the negative and interrogative form of all verbs in the simple past, always use the auxiliary ‘did”.

Examples: Simple past, irregular verbs

to go
a. He went to a club last night.
b. Did he go to the cinema last night?
c. He didn’t go to bed early last night.

to give
d. We gave her a doll for her birthday.
e. They didn’t give John their new address.
f. Did Barry give you my passport?

to come
g. My parents came to visit me last July.
h. We didn’t come because it was raining.
i. Did he come to your party last week?

2. Simple past, function

The simple past is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now. Duration is not important. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past.

  • 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

Examples:

  • frequency:
    often, sometimes, always;
  • a definite point in time:
    last week, when I was a child, yesterday, six weeks ago.
  • an indefinite point in time:
    the other day, ages ago, a long time ago etc.

Note: the word ago is a useful way of expressing the distance into the past. It is placed after the period of time e.g. a week ago, three years ago, a minute ago.

Examples:

a. Yesterday, I arrived in Geneva.
b. She finished her work at seven o’clock.
c. We saw a good film last week.
d. I went to the theatre last night.
e. She played the piano when she was a child.
f. He sent me a letter six months ago.
g. Peter left five minutes ago.

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