- Parent Category: Beginner Skill Builders
- Category: Beginner Skill Builders: Grammar
- Written by Chris Cotter
What is the simple past tense?
The simple past tense talks about events that started and finished in the past. For example:
I ate too much ice cream at Mike's birthday party yesterday.
She worked a lot last month.
They didn't study for the test last week.
Notice the time clause (yesterday / last month / last week). Each sentence talks about an action that happened in the past.
What is the sentence structure?
The sentence structure for positive past tense sentences looks like this:
subject | main verb (past tense) | object | complement (time expression)
He | watched | a movie | last Saturday.
Walter | played | basketball | two weeks ago.
We | ate | pizza | last night.
The sentence structure for negative past tense sentences looks like this:
subject | auxiliary verb (did) + not | main verb | object | complement (time expression)
Bill | did not | eat | breakfast | this morning.
Beth | did not | go | to the beach | last weekend.
She | did not | watch | Game of Thrones | yesterday.
And lastly, here is the sentence structure for questions. Closed questions, or yes/no questions, use the following structure:
auxiliary verb (did) | subject | main verb | object | complement
Did | you | finish | the report | last night?
Did | she | study | last week?
Did | you | eat | lunch | today?
And open questions, or wh-questions, use the following structure:
wh-question | auxiliary verb (did) | subject | main verb | object | complement
What | did | you | eat | last night?
When | did | you | see | the | movie?
Where did you see the movie last weekend?
Why did you see the movie last weekend?
Who did you see the movie with last weekend?
How is the simple past tense used?
The past tense describes an action that started and finished in the past. However, if the action started in the past and continues to now, then we do not use the simple past tense.
Note that the action can be recent or a long time ago.
I came home late last night.
My grandparents got married fifty years ago.
Also note that the action can be short or long.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning.
I lived in Germany for 10 years.
A time expression may be used, but it isn't always necessary. In the below example, it's clear that Kate means breakfast this morning.
Kate: You look hungry. Did you eat breakfast?
Josh: No, I didn't eat breakfast. I woke up late. I didn't have time.
Is there any additional information on the simple past tense?
Most verbs can be changed to the past tense by adding -ed. These are called regular verbs. However, some verbs are irregular. Their form changes. Here are a few examples:
regular verbs: move - moved / play - played / use - used
irregular verbs: buy - bought / eat - ate / see - saw