Simple Past Tense

Simple Past Tense

The simple past can be used if you want to indicate a habit from the past or a generalization that is no longer true. “I played the guitar in elementary school” means that you used to play the guitar but no longer do.

Contrast the statement above with this sentence in the present perfect: “I have played the guitar many times.”

The latter sentence does not rule out the possibility that you still play the guitar. It simply tells the reader that you’ve played it on an indefinite number of occasions.

Forming the Simple Past Tense

You form the simple past tense by adding an -ed to the end of regular verbs.

I walked. We walked.
You walked. You walked.
He, she, or it walked. They walked.

Some verbs are irregular when you form the simple past tense and must be learned. Here are a few common irregular verbs.

To be

I was. We were.
You were. You were.
He, she, it was. They were.

To go

I went. We went.
You went. You went.
He, she, it went. They went.

Making the Simple Past Tense Negative

To make the simple past tense negative, insert the past tense of the auxiliary verb “to do” + not before the root verb.

  • I didn’t swim yesterday.
  • They didn’t give me the raise they promised.
  • She didn’t walk home after all.

Phrasing the Simple Past Tense as a Question

To ask a question in the simple past tense, begin with the past tense form of the auxiliary verb “to do,” followed by the subject and the root verb. Interrogatives can also begin with adverbs expressing time or place.

  • Didn’t you want to see her star in the play?
  • Where did she go?
  • How many years ago did the Civil Rights Movement happen?

Learn more about verb tenses.