Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense, sometimes called the preterite, is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now. The simple past is the basic form of past tense in English. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past and action duration is not important. (

The action which is expressed with simple past 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 ….


She planted some aromatic gingers a week ago.


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


She didn’t plant some aromatic gingers a week ago.

Interrogative (Yes/No Question)

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

Did she plant some aromatic gingers a week ago?

To answer, we can use the following pattern:

Yes, subject+did (auxiliary verb)


No, subject+did+not (didn’t)


X: Did you go to the garden yesterday?

Y: Yes, I did; or No, I didn’t.

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 happen 1st, 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 equipment, left the house and arrived at her office at 7.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;

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

Personal/subject Pronouns


I, he, she, it


we, you, they


The patterns

Positive——————->>Subject+be(was, were)+Complement

Example: I was unhappy with him.

Negative——————->>Subject+be(was, were)+not+Complement

Example: He was not diligent.

Interrogative ————>>Be(Was/Were)+Subject+Complement?

Example: Were they farmers?

To answer the question, you can use the following pattern:

Yes, subject+ be (was/were)


No, subject+be (was/were)+not (wasn’t/weren’t)

So the answer of the question above is:

Yes, they were. Or No, they were not.

You can test your mastery on the material above by taking the following quiz!

1. Grandma liked eating cassava chips when she was young. The negative form of the sentence is ….
2. Did you fail to pass the university entrance test last year?
3. We delivered some fresh food to her ….
4. James Watt …. born in Greenock on 18 January 1736.
5. Stevy … some vegetables, … breakfast, … the dish then studied English.
6. She … to wet the bed when she was a kid.
7. I … a junior high school student in 1990.
8. Last night, your attitude was very bad to him. … you angry with him?
9. The correct way to answer sentence in question no 8 is ….
10. What … your mom like to do before you … when you were a kid?

Tagged with:

Filed under: English Course (Grammar)

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!