Past Simple

The past simple (or simple past) is a basic tense to talk about events that happened in the past. On this page, you have a detailed overview of what this tense is, when to use it, how to form it.

Past simple (or simple past) tense

You use the past simple to talk about actions, states or events in the past. It’s important that those actions, events or states are completely over and that you cannot change them anymore. You can find more information below about the different situations in which you can use the past simple:

Short actions that happened in the past

  • I bought a new car last week.

Something that happened in the past without any link to the present. The action or event is completely over.

  • My sister went to New York for her 18th birthday.

Short actions in the past that happened right after one another

  • My friend crashed his car, he got out of the burning vehicle and ran away.

Habits in the past

  • I always went to school by bike.
Past Simple Use taalhulp Engels

How to form the past simple

Past simple positive

There are multiple ways of forming the past simple (or simple past). The general rule is that you need to add <ed> to the infinitive. This is the rule of thumb for regular verbs. For example:

I worked
You worked
He/she/it worked
We worked
You worked
They worked
Past Simple Form taalhulp Engels

When the infinitive ends in <y>, you drop <y> and add <ied> instead.

  • He carried the groceries (to carry).

If the verb ends in <e> or <a>, you only add <d>.

  • I used that car (to use).

When you have an infinitive of one syllable with a short vowel (a, e, i, o, or u), you double the final consonant.

  • My friend chopped a tree (to chop).

If you have a verb ending in -el, you double the <l>.

  • I channelled my inner spirit (to channel).

When the verb consists of two syllables and the stress is on the final syllable, you double the final letter.

  • I submitted the form (to submit).

All other verbs are irregular and you need to study those. A full list of the irregular verbs is available over here.

  • I ran a marathon (to run).

Past simple negative

If you want to make the negative form of the simple past, you use the past simple of the auxiliary verb ‘to do’ (did) + ‘not’ + the infinitive of the main verb. You need:

did + not + infinitive

I did not work
You did not work
He/she/it did not work
We did not work
You did not work
They did not work

If you want to make the negative form of ‘to be’ in the past simple, you conjugate ‘to be’ and put ‘not’ right after the verb.

I was not
You were not
He/she/it was not
We were not
You were not
They were not

Past simple questions

If you want to form a question in the simple past, you use the simple past of ‘to do’ (did), followed by the subject of the sentence and the infinitive of the main verb.

Did I work?
Did they work?
Did he/she/it work?
Did we work?
Did you work?
Did they work?

If you ask a question and the answer to that question is the subject, you do not use an auxiliary verb. For example:

Who worked?
Who played a game?

If you want to form a question with the verb ‘to be’, you put the verb in front of the subject. Some examples:

Was I?
Were you?
Was he/she/it?
Were we?
Were you?
Were they?

Time indicators

If you have one of the following words in a sentence, it’s usually an indication that you are dealing with a past simple.

  • Last week, last month, ten years ago, in 1990, yesterday, …

Examples

PositiveNegativeQuestion
I worked
He sang
I didn’t work
He didn’t sing
Did I work?
Did he sing?
Note: If you want to make a negative form of the past simple, you use ‘to do’ in the past simple. This is also the case when forming questions.

Past simple exercises

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