Simple Past Tense

The Simple Past, sometimes called the preterite, is the past tense of Modern English. It is used to describe events in the past. It may combine with either or both of two aspects, the perfect and the progressive. When the simple past is employed in the subjunctive mood, it is called the subjunctive imperfect (

The action which is expressed by this one most used tense is started and finishes at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speakers don’t mention the specific time, but they actually have one specific time in mind.

The Patterns

The Simple Past uses the past verbs which, with most verbs (the regular verbs), are created simply by adding -ed. However, with some verbs, you need to add -d or change the ending a little. Meanwhile for the past irregular verb you may see them in the verb list. And the following is the pattern of Simple Past Tense:


Subject + V2 (past verb) —->> I did ….


Subject + did + not + V1 (Verb Base) —->> I did not do ….

Interrogative (Yes/No Question)

Did+subject+V1 (Verb Base) —–>> Did you do …?

The Time Signals

The time signals usually used with the simple past are those which are associated with certain past time expressions; among others are:

Showing frequency: always, often,frequently, usually, sometimes, rarely, etc;
Showing a definite point in time: yesterday, 2 minutes ago, six weeks ago, last Friday, last week, in 1990, when I was a child, etc;
Showing an indefinite point in time: the other day, ages ago, a long time ago, etc.


The word ago is used to express passage of time, how much time has passed since something happened. It is placed after the period of time e.g: five minutes ago, a week ago, two months ago, a year ago.

The Uses

The Simple Past is used to express:

1. the complete action in the past;

The action starts and finishes at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speaker may not actually mention the specific time, but they do have one specific time in mind.


I sent him an email yesterday.
He didn’t pass the test last month.
Did you travel to Seoul last year?
They arranged the book alphabetically last night.
She didn’t study hard last semester.
Did you come to the seminar two days ago?

2. the list of a series of completed actions in the past;

It tells the actions in order, which happen1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on.


  • I finished my work, walked to the book store, and bought some interesting books to read.
  • She prepared her equipments, left the house and arrived at her office at 7.00 a.m.
  • He sat on the sofa, turned on the TV and watched a scientific film, his favorite program.

3. a duration which starts and stops in the past;

Generally the duration is not important in simple past. The most prominent use of the simple past is that the speaker concerns with when an action occurred, not the duration (how long it lasted). Yet, we still have the chance to use the simple past with duration of time (duration of an action which starts and stops in the past). And the expressions such as for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc. are used in this case.


  • I lived in Toronto for three years.
  • We studied English for 8 years.
  • They analyzed the script all day.
  • She did not read the book the whole day.
  • Did you wait for him the entire time?

4. a habits in the past;

The habit has stopped in the past. It is actually similar to used to. The expressions like always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was young, etc. are usually added to indicate that we are talking about a habit.


  • I often climbed coconut trees when I was a child.
  • She always worked hard when she was young.
  • He never cheated when he was student.
  • Did you play in the rain when you were a kid?

5. the past status;


  • I was still single in 1990.
  • Budi was a tour guide.
  • We were pilots.

6. the past fact or generalizations.

Remember that the facts or generalizations are no longer true.


  • I didn’t love him before.
  • Were you calm when you were a kid?
  • In the past it was hard to travel fast from one place to another.
  • People paid much more to make cell phone calls in the past.

Simple Past with be

Use the past form of be (was, were) to make simple past sentences.

  • Use was with the personal pronouns: I, he, she, it or with the singular or the uncountable noun.
  • Use were with the personal pronouns: we, you, they or with the plural noun.

Personal Pronouns


I, he, she, it


we, you, they


The patterns

Positive——————->>Subject+be(was, were)+Complement
Negative——————->>Subject+be(was, were)+not+Complement
Interrogative ————>>Be(Was/Were)+Subject+Complement?


  • I was unhappy with him.
  • He was not diligent.
  • Were they farmers?
  • It was a nice dress previously.
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