What Is the Simple Past Tense? (with Examples)

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 Tense

Here are some examples of the simple past tense (shaded):
  • The Martians landed near the aqueduct.
  • The burglar considered using the fire escape.
Of course, you can also have the negative version, which is formed "did not" + "[verb in base form]":
  • 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.
And the question versions:
  • Did the Martians land near the aqueduct?
  • Why didn't the burglar consider using the fire escape?

Infographic for the Simple Past Tense

Here is an infographic explaining the simple past tense:

simple past tense

Forming the Simple Past Tense of Regular Verbs

Here are the spelling rules for forming the simple past tense of regular verbs.

If you're dealing with a regular verb, the simple past tense is formed like this:

Add "ed" to most verbs:
  • jump > jumped
  • paint > painted
If a verb of one syllable ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], double the final consonant and add "ed":
  • chat > chatted
  • stop > stopped
If the final consonant is w, x, or y, don't double it:
  • sew > sewed
  • play > played
  • fix > fixed
If last syllable of a longer verb is stressed and ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], double the last consonant and add "ed":
  • incur > incurred
  • prefer > preferred
If the first syllable of a longer verb is stressed and the verb ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], just add "ed":
  • open > opened
  • enter > entered
  • swallow > swallowed
If the verb ends "e", just add "d":
  • thrive > thrived
  • guzzle > guzzled
If the verb ends [consonant + "y"], change the "y" to an "i" and add "ed":
  • cry > cried
  • fry > fried

Forming the Simple Past Tense of Irregular Verbs

If 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
You just have to learn them.

Read more about irregular verbs (includes a list of the most common irregular verbs).

The Simple Past Tense with Time Expressions

The 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.)
Read more about commas with adverbial phrases.
  • 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.)
Examples of "how long an activity took":
  • 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.)

Verb Tense Widget

Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , you can click it!

The Other Past Tenses

The 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
Interactive Test
 

See Also

Take a test on the simple past tense Tenses 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