Simple Past Tense. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.
Quick Simple Past Tense study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.
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How to use the simple past tense in English
English speakers use the simple past tense to describe an action that started and finished at a specific time in the past. This lesson includes fifty verbs which are irregular in the past tense.
Here’s a few examples.
- We went to a baseball game yesterday.
- I didn’t finish my homework yesterday.
- I traveled to the beach last summer.
- Did you eat breakfast today?
- He didn’t iron his clothes.
- Did you study English yesterday?
- You did not study English yesterday.
Your English lesson about the Simple Past Tense
Welcome to the Simple Past lesson! In this lesson, we will cover many of the uses of the simple past tense. In Chinese and many other Asian languages, there is no past tense. Therefore mistakes are often made with the past tense. Let’s get started!
We use the simple past tense to describe an action started and finished at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speaker may not actually mention the specific time, but they do have one specific time in mind. Let’s look at a few examples.
We went to a baseball game yesterday.
I didn’t finish my homework yesterday.
I traveled to the beach last summer.
Did you eat breakfast today?
He didn’t iron his clothes.
The simple past is constructed by just changing the verb. For regular verbs, we simply construct the past tense by adding ‘ed’. In addition, there are many irregular verbs. Let’s look at a few examples.
You studied English yesterday.
Did you study English yesterday?
You did not study English yesterday.
As you may have noticed in some of the examples above, the question form in the past tense uses the word ‘did’ followed by the present tense of the verb. You will see a similar format for negative sentences. Here are some more examples of past tense questions and answers.
Did you go to work yesterday? No, I didn’t work yesterday. I relaxed all day.
Did they arrive on time? No, they didn’t arrive on time. They arrived about one hour late.
Where did she go? She didn’t go very far. She went to store.
What did you do yesterday? I practiced the piano, but I didn’t finish my homework.
What did you say? I didn't say anything.
You will often see the simple past tense used when a series of actions has taken place. We will list these in the order in which they were completed. Here are a couple of examples.
I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and ate breakfast before I went to work.
Did you finish your homework, clean your room, and practice the piano?
The simple past tense can also be used with a continuous event that starts and stops in the past. A continuous event is a longer action. You will often see expressions such as for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc.
We lived on Walnut Street for 8 years.
Tim studied Japanese for five years.
She was at the beach all day.
We talked on the phone for about thirty minutes.
Q: How long did you wait for him?
A: I waited for one hour, but he never showed up.
More simple past tense exercises
Another common use of the simple past is to describe a habit which stopped in the past. It can have the same meaning as "used to." To make it clear that we are talking about a habit, we often add expressions such as: always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was younger, etc.
I took piano lessons when I was a child.
We always went skiing in the winter time.
He never cleaned his room.
Did you play basketball when you were a kid?
The simple past can also be used to describe past facts or generalizations which are no longer true. Similar to the examples above, this use of the simple past is very similar to the phrase "used to."
He was skinny as a child, but now he is fat.
George often drank coffee with breakfast.
I never smoked cigarettes when I was in high school.
I often paid too much for clothing because I only bought well known brands.
When-clauses always happen first when both clauses are in the simple past.
When I arrived at school, it started to snow.
I ate my dinner when I got home from work.
She answered the phone when I called.
It’s story time
Now that we’ve learned a lot about the simple past tense, let’s see how this is used in a short story. As you read the following story, pay attention to how the simple past tense is used.
Suzy’s father owned one of the best restaurants in Beijing. Most people she met, after they found out who her father was, told her how great the restaurant was. Sometimes she felt like a famous movie star because the restaurant was so popular.
She grew up in the restaurant. There were times when she wished that her father had a normal job like her friends’ fathers. But, at other times, she really enjoyed being around the restaurant.
On the bright side, the cooks at the restaurant were always really nice to her. She remembered the times when some of the cooks picked her up while they cooked, so that she could watch what they were doing. Another advantage was that she ate delicious food almost all of the time. Even when they ate at home, her family cooked with high quality ingredients they took home from the restaurant.
The biggest disadvantage was that her father worked almost all the time. She spent some time with him at the restaurant, but she didn’t see him anywhere else. When she went to school early in the morning, he slept. When she finished school at the end of the day, he was at the restaurant. At the restaurant, he didn’t have time to talk to her or help her with her homework.
She knew he loved her, but she felt angry that he spent all of his time at the restaurant.
That’s the end of the lesson on the simple past tense.
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