Regular verbs: verb + d or ed
Irregular verbs: see list of irregular verbs
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?
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.
- 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/
- 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/
- 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/
Past simple form
Past simple – regular verbs
We form the past simple with the past tense form of the verb. Some verbs are what we call regular verbs, and to make the past tense form we simply need to add “ed” to the base form:
Some regular verbs already end in “e” and so we only need to add “d”:
Here are some examples of past simple statements with regular verbs:
- We lived in Sydney for about 5 years.
- The children played all weekend.
- They laughed until it hurt.
Past simple – irregular verbs
Many verns in English are irregular. If a verb is irregular its past tense form (and/or past participle form) is made in an irregular way. There are quite a few different ways in which it can be irregular, as you can see from these examples:
|Base form||Past tense form|
You can find a full list of irregular verbs here. Here are some examples of past simple statements with irregular verbs:
- He caught the ball with his left hand.
- The band sang 12 songs before they left the stage.
- It became dark very quickly.
Past simple – be
The verb “be” has two different past tense forms, “was” and “were”:
|First person singular||I||was|
|Second person singular||you||were|
|Third person singular||he / she / it||was|
|First person plural||we||were|
|Second person plural||you||were|
|Third person plural||they||were|
Past simple questions
To make past simple questions we use subject-auxiliary inversion. This means that we swap around the position of the auxiliary verb and the subject. However, as you can see in the sentences above, there is no auxiliary verb in past simple statements. This means that, if we want to make a question, we have to add one. The auxiliary verb we add for past simple questions is “do”, in its past tense form, “did”.
Here are some yes/no questions in past simple using subject/auxiliary inversion:
- Did you live in Sydney?
- Did he catch the ball with his left hand?
- Did the children play all weekend?
As you can see the main verb (live, catch, play) has gone back to its base form each time (we don’t say “Did you lived in Sydney?”) This is because we’ve already indicated that the questions are in past simple by using the past tense form of the auxiliary verb, so we don’t need to indicate it again.
Here are some examples of object and adverb questions, adding a question word to the beginning of the questions:
- What did you do in Sydney?
- Why did he catch the ball with his left hand?
- Where did the children play all weekend?
For past simple subject questions, the question word just replaces the subject, like this:
- Who lived in Sydney?
- Who caught the ball with his left hand?
- Who played all weekend?
Past simple negatives
To make a negative past simple sentence we use the auxiliary verb (did) and “not”. Here are some examples:
- We did not live in Sydney.
- He did not catch the ball with his left hand.
- The children did not play all weekend.
We can use contractions in informal spoken English:
- We didn’t live in Sydney.
- He didn’t catch the ball with his left hand.
- The children didn’t play all weekend.
Past simple meaning
Now that we’ve seen how to make a past simple sentence, let’s have a look at why we use it – its meaning. Its name gives us a clue – it is the simplest form of the past tense and the meanings it gives us about the past are fairly plain and simple too.
Completed events in the past
We use past simple to describe single actions (or occurrences or states) which started and finished before the time of speaking. Sometimes we specifically mention the time when the action was completed with an adverb or adverbial phrase like “yesterday” or “two weeks ago”:
- I went to Dubai last year.
- They lived in Paris in 2006.
- I finished the report two weeks ago.
Sometimes, though, the specific time of the action is implied and so we don’t need to mention it. In the conversation below, when Jane mentions “breakfast” it is clear that she is talking about this morning.
- John: Are you hungry?
Jane: Yes, I didn’t have breakfast.
We can also talk about sequences of completed events, like this:
- I got up at 6 o’clock, had a shower and went for a walk.
- Goldilocks ate all the porridge, sat in all the chairs and slept in all the beds.
When we use adverbs and adverbial phrases like “last year”, “in 2006” and “at 6 o’clock” we are specifying an exact time that an event happened in the past. Sometimes though, we want to emphasise that fact that the event lasted for some time – its duration. To do this we can use different adverbs and adverbial phrases, like “for five years”, “all day” and “for a long time”. Have a look at these sentences:
- I talked with my mother on the phone last night.
- I talked with my mother on the phone for 2 hours.
In both sentences the events are completed – they started and finished before the time of speaking. In the first sentence we are specifying the exact time when the event happened. In the second sentence though we are emphasising how long the event lasted. Here’s another example:
- I went to the beach yesterday.
- I stayed at the beach all day.
Again, in the first sentence we state when the event happened, and in the second sentence we emphasise how long it lasted.
Repeated or regular events in the past
We can use past simple with adverbs of frequency to talk about repeated or regular actions that are finished in the past. As well as using adverbs of frequency we often use expressions like “a lot” and “all the time”. Here are some examples:
- I played tennis a lot when I was younger.
- When I was at school I did two hours of homework every day.
Past simple additional points
Is past simple a tense or an aspect?
The past simple is an aspect of the past tense. A tense tells us when an event occurs, and an aspect tells us how an event occurs, or how it is viewed by the speaker, in terms of its frequency, its duration, and whether or not it is completed. You can find a detailed explanation of tenses and aspects here.