The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now. Imagine someone asks you what your brother Wolfgang did while he was in town last weekend.
The simple past tense shows that you are talking about something that has already happened. Unlike the past continuous tense, which is used to talk about past events that happened over a period of time, the simple past tense indicates that the action occurred at a certain time and then was completed.
You can also use the simple past to talk about a past state of being, such as the way someone felt about something. This is often expressed with the simple past tense of the verb to be and an adjective, noun, or prepositional phrase.
How to form the simple past
For regular verbs, add –ed to the root form of the verb (or just –d if the root form ends in an e):
For irregular verbs, things get more complicated. The simple past tense of some irregular verbs looks exactly like the root form:
For other irregular verbs, including to be, the simple past forms are more erratic:
The good news is that verbs in the simple past tense (except for to be) don’t need to agree in number with their subjects.
How to make the simple past negative
Fortunately, there is a formula for making simple past verbs negative, and it’s the same for both regular and irregular verbs (except for the verb to be). The formula is did not + [root form of verb]. You can also use the contraction didn’t instead of did not.
For the verb to be, you don’t need the auxiliary did. When the subject of the sentence is singular, use was not or wasn’t. When the subject is plural, use were not or weren’t.
How to ask a question
The formula for asking a question in the simple past tense is did + [subject] + [root form of verb].
When asking a question with the verb to be, you don’t need the auxiliary did. The formula is was/were + [subject].
Common regular verbs in the past tense
|did not ask
|did not work
|did not call
|did not use
Common irregular verbs in the past tense
|was not/were not
|did not have
|did not do
|did not say
|did not have
|did not make
|did not go
|did not take
|did not see
|did not come
Simple past tense FAQs
What is the simple past tense?
The simple past is a verb tense describing events that already happened.
What are some examples of simple past tense?
“I ate cereal for breakfast this morning.”
“Morganucodon was an early mammal that lived with dinosaurs.”
Can simple past tense express future action?
The simple past tense can only express actions in the past. However, you can show current ongoing actions that started in the past with the present perfect continuous tense (e.g., “I have been working there for twenty years”).