What Is the Past Tense? (with Examples)

What Is the Past Tense? (with Examples)

The past tense describes a past event or a state of being. For example:

  • I jumped in the lake.
  • (past event)
  • I was happy.
  • (past state of being)
The tense of a verb is determined by when the action took place. The three main tenses are:

Examples of the Types of Past Tenses

The past tense is categorized further depending on whether the action was in progress or has been completed. The four past tenses are:

The 4 Past Tenses Examples Uses
simple past tense
  • I went.
  • The Martians landed near the aqueduct.
The simple past tense is used to describe a completed activity that started in the past and ended in the past.
past progressive tense
  • I was going.
  • He was painting the door when a bird struck the window.
The past progressive tense is used to describe an on-going activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
past perfect tense
  • I had gone.
  • Silverfinger had taken the pill before the team reached him.
The past perfect tense is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another took place.
past perfect progressive
  • I had been going.
  • She had been painting the door before the dog scratched it.
The past perfect progressive tense is used to show that an on-going action in the past has ended.

Diagrams for the Four Past Tenses

The infographics below show how each past tense is formed and a quick overview of how each one is used:

Simple Past Tense

For example:

  • I played when I was younger.

Past Progressive Tense

For example:

  • I was playing for an hour.

Past Perfect Tense

For example:

  • I had played already.

Past Perfect Progressive Tense

For example:

  • I had been playing since I was ten.

See also:

What are verbs?
Past tense
Present tense
Future tense
Simple past tense
Past progressive tense
Past perfect tense
Past perfect progressive tense
Simple present tense
Present progressive tense
Present perfect tense
Present perfect progressive tense
Simple future tense
Future progressive tense
Future perfect tense
Future perfect progressive tense
Glossary of grammatical terms
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