The Simple Past Tense in English
Past Simple/Indefinite is the default past tense, denoting completed activity. It has the second verb form.
I read a book about astrology last night.
Interrogative and negative Past Simple have the helping verb did before infinitive, also making up past mini-answers. Negative Past Simple is did not = didn’t. Did isn’t used in negatives and questions with was/were and modal verbs, subject questions.
Was the weather good when you were on holiday?
Who opened this window?
|did sb do sth||sb did sth||sb didn’t do sth|
Regular verbs (as most verbs) end in –ed in the past. Verbs in a consonant + y change it to –ied in the past.
hurry – hurried, study – studied, apply – applied, try – tried
Verbs already in –e add only –d in the past.
hope – hoped, smile – smiled, dance – danced, confuse – confused
End consonants are doubled in multi-syllable verbs with end stress.
prefer – preferred, regret – regretted, permit – permitted
British English doubles end –l before –ed.
travel – travelled, cancel – cancelled
Irregular verbs are fewer but more important and so to be memorized. Some irregular verbs have the same 3 forms.
hit – hit – hit
Other irregulars have the same last 2 forms.
tell – told – told
The other irregulars have 3 different forms.
wake – woke – woken
The following verbs may be (ir)regular. Their irregular form is typical of British English.
burn – burned/burnt, dream – dreamed/dreamt [dremt], lean – leaned/leant [lent], learn – learned/learnt, smell – smelled/smelt, spell – spelled/spelt, spill – spilled/spilt, spoil – spoiled/spoilt
Past Simple Meanings
- completed events (with stated/known/implied timing)
They went camping by the lake last month.
I never learnt to swim as a child.
- successive past actions
First she paid the driver, then she got out of the taxi.
He cooked the dinner when I arrived.
- outdated habits/states (= used to)
Kitchens were very different a hundred years ago.
We went out for a meal every evening on holiday.
He smoked for most of his life.
In 1950 there were fewer than 50 million cars in use around the world.
- unlikely conditions (in clauses)
It’s high time he arrived.
I wish it wasn’t true.
What if it all happened to me before?
- time adverb(ials)
yesterday, then, when, how long ago, last night/week, year, ago, in the year
I went to Spain a couple of years ago and I visited Italy a few times as a child.
Were you busy this morning?
I had a bath at 8 o’clock.
At the time I had a poorly-paid job in the local shop.
Your mother phoned a few minutes ago.
He got up at 7 every morning to go to work.
She worked there for 40 years.