Simple Past Tense

by Craig Shrives

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. For example:
  • John baked a cake.
  • They painted the fence.

Real-life Examples of the Simple Past Tense

Here are some real-life examples of the simple past tense:
  • I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. (Italian sculptor Michelangelo)
  • I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

Forming the Simple Past Tense

If you're dealing with a regular verb, the simple past tense is formed like this:
base form of verb
+
"ed"
  • jump > jumped
  • paint > painted
However, there are some spelling rules.

Spelling Rules

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).

Using the Simple Past Tense

When making a statement, you can use the following word order:
[subject]
+
[verb]
  • The Martians landed near the aqueduct.
  • The burglar used the fire escape.

The Negative Version

If you need the negative version, you can use the following word order:
"did not"
+
base form of verb
  • The Martians did not land near the aqueduct.
  • (We could have used "didn't" instead of "did not.")
  • The burglar did not use the fire escape.

The Question Version

If you need to ask a question, you can use the following word order for a yes/no question:
"did"
+
[subject]
+
base form of verb
  • Did the Martians land near the aqueduct?
  • Did the burglar use the fire escape?
You can use the following word order for a question-word question:
[question word]
+
"did"
+
[subject]
+
base form of verb
  • Why did the Martians land near the aqueduct?
  • When did the burglar use the fire escape?
You can use the following word order for a choice question:
"did"
+
[subject]
+
base form of verb
+
choice A
+
or
+
choice B
  • Did the Martians land near the aqueduct or the town?
  • Did the burglar use the fire escape or the stairs?

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.)

Infographic for the Simple Past Tense

simple past tense
The tables below show all 12 tenses so you can see the simple past tense among the other tenses. (You can change the verb by clicking one of the green buttons.)

Top 10 Regular Verbs

Top 10 Irregular Verbs

All 4 Past Tenses

PersonSimple PastPast Progressive TensePast Perfect TensePast Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
The simple past tense is for a completed activity that happened in the past.
  • was present participle
  • were present participle
  • was present participle
  • were present participle
  • were present participle
  • were present participle
The past progressive tense is for an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
The past perfect tense is for emphasizing that an action was completed before another took place.
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
The past perfect progressive tense is for showing that an ongoing action in the past has ended.

All 4 Present Tenses

PersonSimple PresentPresent Progressive TensePresent Perfect TensePresent Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • base form
  • base form
  • 3rd pers sing present
  • base form
  • base form
  • base form
The simple present tense is mostly for a fact or a habit.
  • am present participle
  • are present participle
  • is present participle
  • are present participle
  • are present participle
  • are present participle
The present progressive tense is for an ongoing action in the present.
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
  • has past participle
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
The present perfect tense is for an action that began in the past. (Often, the action continues into the present.)
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • has been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
The present perfect progressive tense is for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present (or finished very recently).

All 4 Future Tenses

PersonSimple FutureFuture Progressive TenseFuture Perfect TenseFuture Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
The simple future tense is for an action that will occur in the future.
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
The future progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will occur in the future.
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
The future perfect tense is for an action that will have been completed at some point in the future.
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
The future perfect progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future.

The Other Past Tenses

The simple past tense is one of four past tenses. This table shows all four of the past tenses:
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

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See Also

Take another test on the simple past tense Tenses 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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