Use of the past simple

(The simple past tense in English)

Table of contents – past simple

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the past simple
  2. Formation of the past simple
  3. Further explanations and exercises

When do we use the past simple?

In general, we use the past simple to express the past tense in English. An event in that tense happened before now and is always completed. How long the event lasted is not important, although it frequently appears with time adverbials or past time expressions that define a fixed point in the past. In detail, the following cases are typical:

  • The past simple is used …
    • … to talk about actions or processes that happened once or repeatedly in the past and that are completed (key words:yesterday, last month, last year, two weeks ago, in 1999’ etc.):
      • “I bought a new car two months ago.”
      • “Sabrina arrived in London very late last night.”
    • … for actions that happened consecutively in the past which means one after the other in a short time:
      • “He came home, opened the window and took a bath.”
      • “Sue bought a book, went home and started to read it straightaway.”
    • … in order to express past habits (which is often done by utilizing ‘used to’):
      • “When I was a child, I used to eat a lot of chocolate every day.”
      • “I always took the underground when I lived in London.”
    • … when an action started in the past while another one was ongoing:
      • “When I was taking a shower yesterday, the police knocked on my door.”
      • “We were walking down the street when the accident happened.”
    • … in order to express a condition with the if-clause type II (2nd conditional sentence):
      • “If I had a million euros, I would go on a trip around the world.”
      • “Gerard would earn more money if he worked harder.”

How do we form the past simple?

The formation of the past simple is relatively easy for regular verbs as in most cases we only need to add the ending ‘-ed’ to the infinitive form of the verb. Irregular verbs have special forms, which can be found in the second column (past) of the list for irregular verbs.

Rule for conjugating the simple past

Regular verbs → infinitive (base form) + ending ‘-ed

Irregular verbs → special forms according to the list

Additional examples

  • “I worked hard yesterday.”
    • sentence with the regular verb ‘to work
  • “The kid caught the ball.”
    • sentence with the irregular verb ‘to catch

Further explanations related to the topic ‘Past simple’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Past simple’ and can also help you: