The Simple Past Tense

By | December 11, 2017

The Simple Past Tense is used to talk about:

1. things that happened at a specified time in the past. If you include a time signal, e.g. yesterday, last night, last year, last month, in your sentence, you should use the simple past tense. You use the simple past tense to say that an action started and ended in in the past.


a. Yesterday, I wrote a love letter to a girl I have a crush on (the ‘writing’ action started and ended yesterday)
b. I watched an exciting soccer match last night (the ‘watching’ started and ended last night)

If you want to include the duration of an action, i.e. how long it happened, use for.


a. We played chess for 2 hours last night.
b. We stayed in the camp for a week last month.

2. things that happened repeatedly in the past; past habit. Words like often, usually, always, etc. are often used.


a. When I was in grade 4, I always studied hard to be the best student in my class.
b. She walked to the teacher’s conference 3 consecutive days last week.

Sometimes, the word would is used to express past habit.


a. I would study really hard for a test when I was in grade 4.
b. She would go fishing in the lake with my dad when school holidays came.

3. an action that interrupted another action in the past. In this case, the action interrupted usually has a longer duration. The action with the longer duration is in the past continuous tense.


a. The telephone suddenly rang while I was having a shower.
b. When I was reading the new novel that I bought today, the power went out.

Like the simple present tense, the following patterns are common with the simple past tense:

1. Subject + be (was/were) + adjective/noun/prepositional phrase


a. The school ‘go-green’ project conducted last week was successful. (subject + was + adjective)
b. My father was a history teacher (subject + was + noun phrase)
c. The wallet was on the table last night. (subject + was + prepositional phrase)

Note: With this sentence pattern, the yes-no question is made by putting was/were in front. The negative sentence is made by adding NOT after was/were.

2. Subject + past simple form of verb + noun phrase/prepositional phrase/adverb


a. I ate two slices of bread this morning (subject + past simple form of verb + object [noun phrase])
b. My sister wrote an essay in the study room last night (subject + past simple form of verb + noun phrase + prepositional phrase)
c. My dad headed home hurriedly (subject + past simple form of verb + adverb)

Note: With this pattern, the yes-no question is made by putting Did in front/at the beginning of the sentence. The negative sentence is made by adding DID NOT in front of the verb. Remember that base form of verb is used.

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