English grammar – Past simple

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Form

Regular verbs: verb + d or ed
Irregular verbs: see list of irregular verbs

Meaning

Past simple is used to talk about finished actions and time.

  • I went there last year.
  • You lived in Paris when you were younger, didn’t you?
  • He worked there in 1980.
  • She saw him yesterday.
  • We didn’t see Jack and Liz at the party last night.
  • What did they talk about at the meeting in Zurich?

Pronunciation

See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below.

With regular verbs, the pronunciation of the d or ed ending depends on the last phoneme of the verb.

  1. If the last phoneme of the verb is /d/ or /t/, we add a syllable, pronouncing the ending /ɪd/
    • land (one syllable) – landed (two syllables): /lændɪd/
    • start (one syllable) – started (two syllables): /stɑːtɪd/
  2. If the last phoneme of the verb is a vowel, a diphthong, /b/, /dʒ/, /g/, /v/, /ð/, /z/, /ʒ/, /m/, /n/or /ŋ/, we don’t add a syllable and the ending is pronounced/d/
    • snooze (one syllable) – snoozed (one syllable): /snuːzd/
    • line (one syllable) – lined (one syllable): /laɪnd/
  3. If the last phoneme of the verb is /p/, /tʃ/, /k/, /f/, /θ/, /s/ or /ʃ/, we don’t add a syllable and the ending is pronounced /t/
    • hope (one syllable) – hoped (one syllable): /həʊpt/
    • pick (one syllable) – picked (one syllable): /pɪkt/

Related grammar points

Past Continuous
Present Simple
Tense and aspect


5 teaching ideas and comments

  1. Richard says:

    I first make statements in the present using a weekly schedule, then I tell students what I did last week.

    She goes to the movies on Fridays.
    She went to the movies last Friday

    Did she go to the movies last Friday?
    Yes, she did. Or Yes, she went to the movies last Friday.

    Did she go to the movies last Thursday?
    No, she didn’t. Or No, she didn’t go to the movies last Thursday.

    When did she go to the movies?
    She went to the movies last Friday.

  2. Jessica says:

    Tic-tac-toe is a fun game to practice the simple past. Divide the class into two groups (one is X the other is O). Stick or draw the squares on the board. Put verbs (infinitives) with ? + or – in each square.

    X group chooses a square and constructs a positive/negative sentence or question using the verb in that square. For example:

    GO ?
    Where did you go on holiday last year?

    HAVE +
    I had a bad day yesterday.

    BE –
    I wasn’t here last week.

    If the group makes a correct sentence, X or O goes in that square. This continues until one group has XXX in a line or OOO in a line.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Draw two columns on the board – one side is for verbs and the other for nouns. Students think of lots of random verbs and nouns. For example:

    eat house
    speak pen
    steal London
    marry elephant

    Students then try to make a sentence with these two words in the past tense.

  4. Ana says:

    I like playing a game I call Who was I?

    One student thinks about someone famous who has died and the others ask him yes/no questions to try to find out who the person is. For example:

    “Was this person American?
    “Was this person a man?”
    “Did he play music?”

  5. Anna says:

    I ask my students to write several verbs (about 10) on the board. We revise the past simple of all these verbs and then the students make up a story using all the verbs in past simple. The first student starts with the first verb. The second one goes on with the following verb and so on. They continue until there are no more verbs left.

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