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The Past Simple Tense

Perfect English Grammar

The Past Simple Tense

(also called the simple past tense)

Click here to download this explanation as a pdf.

Click here to learn about how to USE the past simple.

It's similar to the present simple because it has different rules for the verb 'be', which becomes 'was' or 'were':

The Past Simple with 'be'

Here's how to make the positive:

Positive with 'be'
I was cold
you were tired
he was in the garden
she was late
it was sunny
we were on holiday
they were hungry

To make the negative with 'be', just add 'not':

Negative with 'be' Negative Short Form
I was not sleepy I wasn't sleepy
you were not on the bus you weren't on the bus
he was not at school he wasn't at school
she was not beautiful she wasn't beautiful
it was not cold it wasn't cold
we were not at work we weren't at work
they were not tired they weren't tired

Here's an exercise to practise the positive and negative forms with 'be'

To make a question, just like the present simple, we change the position of 'was / were' and the subject.

Here are the past simple 'yes / no' questions with 'be':

'Yes / No' Questions with 'Be'
was I sleepy?
were you late?
was he at the cinema?
was she kind?
was it hot?
were we hungry?
were they at work?

And the 'wh' questions with 'be' (the question word just goes at the beginning, everything else is the same):

'Wh' Questions with 'Be'
why was I sleepy?
where were you?
when was he at the cinema?
how was she?
how was it?
why were we hungry?
when were they at work?

And here's an exercise for 'wh' and 'yes / no' questions

Here's another exercise with 'be' (this time it's all forms - positive, negative and questions)

The Past Simple (Simple Past) with Other Verbs

We make the past simple just like the present simple except we use 'did' instead of 'do / does'. It's really easy because 'did' doesn't change, even with 'he / she / it'.

The positive:

We usually make the positive by adding '-ed' to the infinitive. For example, 'play' becomes 'played'. However, there are some irregular verbs, for example 'go' becomes 'went' and 'run' becomes 'ran'.

(Here's some help if you are not sure how to pronounce '-ed' at the end of a verb).

Positive with Other Verbs
I walked (regular)
you played (regular)
he cooked (regular)
she listened (regular)
it rained (regular)
we ate (irregular)
they drank (irregular)

Click here for a list of 50 common irregular verbs (PDF file)

Click here for an exercise about irregular verbs in this verb tense

Click here for another irregular verb exercise

In the negative there aren't any irregular verbs. All verbs use 'did not (didn't) + infinitive':

Negative Negative Short Form
I did not walk I didn't walk
you did not play you didn't play
he did not cook he didn't cook
she did not listen she didn't listen
it did not rain it didn't rain
we did not eat we didn't eat
they did not drink they didn't drink

Here's an exercise about the negative form

Questions are also very easy. Just put 'did' before the subject, and the infinitive after it.

Here are the 'yes / no' questions:

'Yes / No' Questions
did I walk?
did you play?
did he cook?
did she listen?
did it rain?
did we eat?
did they drink?

And here's an exercise about 'yes / no' questions

To make a 'wh' question, of course, put the question word at the beginning of the sentence:

'Wh' Questions
where did I go?
what did you play?
what did he cook?
why did she listen?
when did it rain?
where did we eat?
how did they travel?

And here's an exercise about 'wh' questions

Here are some exercises about making all the forms:
Mixed Exercise 1
Mixed Exercise 2
Mixed Exercise 3
Mixed Exercise 4

Click here to learn about when we use this tense