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English Grammar Tenses: The Past Simple

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

The past simple tense is used to talk about finished actions. Past verbs can be regular or irregular. Regular past verbs have an -ed ending, while irregular verbs have many forms. For example:

She called me yesterday. (regular: call - called)

We had a great time last night. (irregular: have - had)

We played basketball for two hours. (regular: play - played)

Who won the game yesterday? (irregular: win - won)

Here are some other examples of the past simple in action:

She wanted to be a ballet dancer when she was younger.

I saw my cousin this morning. We talked for an hour.

Where were you born?

When did you wake up this morning?

He wasn't in class today.

They arrived at 6 o'clock.

We bought a new car last week.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

In general, the past simple follows these constructions:

Affirmative: Subject + simple past verb (I played.)

Negative: Subject + didn’t + base verb (I didn’t play.)

Yes/No Interrogative: Did + subject + base verb (Did you play?)

Wh- Interrogative: Wh- + did + subject + base verb (Where did you play?)

It is important to note that DID and DID NOT (or DIDN'T) are used with every subject in the past simple. These are auxiliary verbs that are used in QUESTIONS, NEGATIVES, or for AFFIRMATIVE EMPHASES (ex. "Now that you mention it, I did see him this morning!").

Remember: if you use any form of DO/DOES/DON'T/DOESN'T/DID/DIDN'T in a present simple or past simple statement or question, the MAIN VERB that comes after will ALWAYS be in its base form. The subject doesn't matter.


Did you see him? (NOT "Did you sees him?")

Where did she go? (NOT "Where did she goes?")

He didn't have lunch. (NOT "He didn't has lunch.")

Common question: "When do I use DID/DIDN'T and when do I use WAS/WERE/WASN'T/WEREN'T?"

Answer: Use DID/DIDN'T (as well as DO/DOES/DON'T/DOESN'T) before a VERB ("What did you do?") Use WAS/WERE before an adjective ("Why were you sad?"), preposition ("Was he at home?"), noun ("Were they friends?"), age ("She was twenty-two when that happened"), or before a continuous verb ("You were singing.")

For more information on when to use BE and when to use DO, watch this video and do the practice quiz.

Good luck!


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