For this edition of ‘English Corner’, we’re going into the past to figure out and understand the ‘Simple Past Tense.’ In order to successfully master the English language, you need to be able to use the simple past tense correctly. Whether it’s talking about what you did yesterday or last week or even five years ago, the structure and formation of the simple past tense should not be overlooked. As we discussed previously with the simple present tense and the present progressive tense, having a good grasp of these basic grammar forms will help you to get better in English really quickly.
In this blog post, I’ll go over when and how we should use the simple past tense and you will be able to see a few examples of how to put this grammar tense into action. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them for me below the article, as I am happy to help anyone out who needs additional assistance with the simple past tense. After going through this grammar tense for this post, be on the lookout for the next edition of ‘English Corner’ when we go over the past progressive tense.
If you have heard about the ‘preterite tense’ but don’t know about the ‘simple past tense’, then you can be at ease knowing that they are one in the same. While there are different forms of the past tense, the ‘simple past tense’ has become the most commonly used form and is quite easy to master if you are able to understand and apply the structures and the different ways you can use the grammar tense in a sentence.
When it comes to creating the simple past tense, the structure is quite simple. There are three types of sentences that you can form with the simple past tense: positive, negative, and questions. For positive sentences, you’ll put the ‘subject’ first and then add the ‘main verb’, which will be in the simple past tense. For negative sentences, you put the subject first and then an auxiliary verb with the verb ‘to do’, put into the past tense, which becomes ‘did’ followed by the word ‘not’ afterwards to indicate the negation in the sentence. The last part of the ‘negative’ sentence with simple past is the ‘main verb’ so the structure should be ‘subject’ + ‘auxiliary verb and ‘not’ + ‘main verb’ to complete the sentence fully. The question form of the ‘simple past tense’ is very similar to the negative form but there’s one exception that makes them different from each other.
The ‘auxiliary verb’ comes first before the ‘subject’ and then after the subject comes the ‘main verb’ and the ‘object’, which completes the sentence’s overall purpose. Positive sentences for the simple past tense do not have any auxiliary verbs as the negative and question sentences do reply upon. The verb ‘to do’ is the most important one when it comes to forming the simple past sentence regardless if its’ a positive, negative, or question form of the grammar tense. Lastly, the negative sentences you create must have the ‘not’ word after the auxiliary verb and before the main verb in order for it to make grammatical sense.
I did go to the mall last weekend. (to go)
I did play with my friends at the park yesterday. (to play)
I did not think you were polite at the lecture on Monday. (to think)
I did not believe you when you said the stock market crashed. (to believe)
Did you do your homework last night? (to do)
Did you tell her you were late for class? (to tell)
When it comes to the verb ‘to be’, there is a different structure for the simple past tense that the average ESL student should be made aware of. In order to put ‘to be’ in the past tense form, it’s either going to become ‘was’ or ‘were’ depending upon what subject is being used at the beginning of the sentence. For the positive form of the was/were usage of ‘to be’ in the past tense, you start with I/He/She/It (subjects) and then the verb, which in this case for singular subjects would be was, followed by the object of the sentence.
For sentences with subject plurals like We/They/You, you are going to change ‘to be’ from was to were to reflect the change followed by the action / object again. For the negative form, you’re just going to add ‘not’ between the main verb and the object at the end of the sentence. ‘Was or were’ are going to be placed at the beginning of a question sentence followed by the subject and the actions that are involved in the sentence.
He was here yesterday evening at the dinner table. (to be)
You were in Istanbul last weekend for a friend’s birthday. (to be)
I was not at the park last night because I had work to do. (to be)
They were not at the party because they were not invited. (to be)
Was she nice to her date last Thursday night? (to be)
Were you happy with how you did on the Spanish exam? (to be)
Compared to the verb ‘to do’ in the simple past tense, ‘to be’ has no auxiliary verbs at all even for the question and negative forms of the verb tense. However, it is the same in that ‘not’ always comes after the main verb for a negative sentence. The subject also becomes the past tense form of the verb ‘to be’ while the main verb moves to the middle of the sentence and is actually the subject words such as he / she / they, etc.
If you simply would like to use the past simple tense with most of the verbs you’ll be using in your sentences, you will add the letter ‘d’ or ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb in order for it to make sense grammatically. There are a couple of examples we should take a look at it when it comes to forming the simple past tense of the verb with ‘d’ or ‘ed.’
- After school, he walked home in the rain.
- He danced really well with his date at the senior prom.
- She planned to go to Europe this summer but she couldn’t save up enough money.
- Because his mother was sick, he baked a chocolate cake.
- We went to the movies after we ate at a Mexican restaurant.
It’s important to note that there may be some irregular verbs that are formed differently when it comes to the simple past tense. For example, ‘go’ in the simple present tense will become ‘went’ when it comes to being grammatically correct in the simple past tense. Another verb like ‘eat’ will become ‘ate’ and ‘drink’ will also change slightly to become ‘drank.’ While most of the verbs only need a ‘d’ or an ‘ed’ to be properly simple past, there are a few irregular verbs that should be memorized for the fact that they are exceptions to the rule when it comes to going from present to past in terms of how the word is written and pronounced.
Now that we know how to use the structure of the simple past tense, you’ll also want to be aware of what kinds of uses do we have for this particular grammar tense. The main purpose of the simple past tense is to talk about the past meaning that we want to shed light about a thing, an action, or a situation that happened in the past. These events can be as recent in the past as in they happened last night or they can be events that occurred long ago such as discussing a sports championship that happened over a decade ago.
- I played my violin last night for my parents and brother. (short time ago)
- I had a great time living in Istanbul, Turkey back in 2015. (long time ago)
When we use the simple past tense, you cannot refer to events or actions that are happening currently in the present or are slated to happen anytime in the future. The simple past tense only focuses on those events and actions that were completed sometime in the past. It simply doesn’t matter if the event was finished ten years ago or ten seconds ago. The fact is that it’s still in the past and the sentence structure should reflect the grammatical tense that fits the place and time.
Lastly, it should be noted that the books you’ve read or the movies you seen who occur in the past are mainly going to use the simple past tense. The present perfect and simple present tense may be used in stories or movies as well but you’re going to want to pay attention and listen to the sentences with the simple past tense because they are going to be the most common.
If you want to practice your simple past tense after reading this article, I recommend listening to songs, reading books, watching movies that take place in the past. Besides speaking or writing about the past, participating in the active listening and / or reading about events or moments in the past will help to take your English language skills to the next level. I hope you enjoyed this ‘English Corner’ post and please leave a comment if you have any questions, queries, or comments.