What Is the Simple Past Tense? (with Examples)The simple past tense is used to describe a completed activity that happened in the past. In other words, it started in the past and ended in the past.
Uses of the Simple Past TenseHere are some examples of the simple past tense (shaded):
- The Martians landed near the aqueduct.
- The burglar considered using the fire escape.
- The Martians did not land near the aqueduct. (We could have used didn't instead of did not.)
- The burglar did not consider using the fire escape.
- Did the Martians land near the aqueduct?
- Why didn't the burglar consider using the fire escape?
Forming the Simple Past TenseHere is an infographic explaining the simple past tense:
The Simple Past Tense with Time ExpressionsThe simple past tense is often seen with a time expression explaining when the activity took place or how long it lasted.
Examples of "when an activity took place":
- On Tuesday last week, the Martians landed near the aqueduct. ("On Tuesday last week" tells you when it happened. It's called an adverbial phrase of time. Other examples are"Yesterday," "Last year," "Before breakfast,". They are really common. When any adverb appears at the front of a sentence, it is usual to follow it with a comma. A comma is not usually used when the adverbial phrase appears at the back of a sentence. NB: This is not a strict rule. Use a comma if it helps your reader.)
- The Martians landed near the aqueduct on Tuesday last week. (Note: No comma)
- Just before he was caught, the burglar considered using the fire escape. ("Just before he was caught" tells you when the activity took place.)
- Last week, the council inspected the drains. ("Last week" tells you when it happened and for how long.)
- Her daughter hid under the bed for three hours. (Using "for" is a common way of describing how long an activity lasted.)
The Other Past TensesThe simple past tense is one of four past tenses. They are:
|The 4 Past Tenses||Example|
|simple past tense||I went|
|past progressive tense||I was going|
|past perfect tense||I had gone|
|past perfect progressive tense||I had been going|
Regular VerbsIf it's a regular verb, the simple past tense is formed like this:
Add "ed" to most verbs:
- jump > jumped
- paint > painted
- chat > chatted
- stop > stopped
- sew > sewed
- play > played
- fix > fixed
- incur > incurred
- prefer > preferred
- open > opened
- enter > entered
- swallow > swallowed
- thrive > thrived
- guzzle > guzzled
- cry > cried
- fry > fried
Irregular VerbsIf it's an irregular verb, the simple past tense is formed in all sorts of different ways. Here are some examples:
- break > broke
- catch > caught
- find > found
- see > saw
Click here for a list of the most common irregular verbs.
Take a longer test on the simple past tense
Take a test on the simple past 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