Table of Contents
Past simple verbs express actions that started and completed in the past. They may indicate:
(1) actions that happened and completed sometime in the past,
(2) actions that frequently happened in the past,
(3) actions that lasted for a period of time in the past,
(4) a series of actions in the past, or
(5) imaginary conditions.
Let’s explain each one of these situations with illustrations and example sentences.
A single action that started and finished sometime in the past is expressed with a past simple verb.
- She opened her first bank account when she was 16.
- We bought our house 10 years ago.
- I visited the dentist yesterday.
- He broke his leg last week.
- When I was in high school, I wore a school uniform.
- She never wanted to be in a big crowd.
- When he was little, he didn’t like dogs.
- She worked as a journalist after school.
The past simple tense is used to talk about actions that lasted for a period of time in the past. They no more happen in the present.
- I lived in Italy for five years.
- They studied German for ten months.
- He worked on the project the whole week.
- She played the piano all day.
A series of actions
More than one action in a series that took place and finished in the past are described using past simple verbs.
- In the morning, I prepared the kids’ breakfast, cleaned the kitchen, and made some phone calls.
- They arrived at the airport, took a taxi, and called us to meet them at the hotel.
- She baked a cake, set the table, and invited everybody.
- If I were a school principal, I would give the students longer weekends.
- What would you do if you inherited a big fortune?
- If she knew his name, she would tell us.
The past tense of the verb (or Verb 2) is used to describe something in the past. The same form is used with all persons.
I traveled twice last year.
We traveled twice last year.
You traveled twice last year.
They traveled twice last year.
She traveled twice last year.
He traveled twice last year.
It traveled twice last year.
Past verbs fall into 2 groups: regular and irregular verbs.
- Regular verbs are formed by adding ed or d to the base verb.
- Irregular verbs follow different patterns.
To make the negative of past tense verbs, we use the auxiliary did + not and the base verb.
Subject + did not (didn’t) + base verb
- They did not move to the city last year.
- She didn’t present her project in class.
- I didn’t wash my car on Friday.
- You did not add sugar to my tea.
To make questions, we use the auxiliary verb did.
Did + subject + base verb?
Wh-word + did + subject + base verb?
- Did they finish the course on time?
- When did he arrive?
- Did you learn French when you were in France?
- Where did you call Tina?
Any expression of time that refers to a time before the time of speaking can be used with past tense verbs.
- last night, in the morning, last evening, etc.
- last week, last month, last year, etc.
- an hour ago, two days ago, etc.
- in 1990, in January, on Sunday, etc.
- when I was a child
Used to is used to talk about past habits that stopped to happen in the present.
The same form is used with all persons, singular and plural. It is followed by the base verb.
- Nadeen used to wear a uniform at work.
means that she no more wears a uniform now.
To form the negative, we use:
Subject + did not (didn’t) use to + base verb.
- She didn’t use to drink coffee in the morning.
To form questions, we use:
(Wh) did + subject + use to + base verb …?
- Did you use to go to school by bus?
- What did Amy use to eat before she started her diet?
Used to gives the same meaning of the past simple verbs that describe past habits. (Refer to usage 2 above.)
These two sentences mean the same:
- They used to visit us every now and then.
- They visited us every now and then.