Tenses

Past Simple

We use the Past Simple to talk about actions that happened at a specific time in the past.
The actions can be short or long. There can be a few actions happening one after another.

Subject + Verb (past form)
  • I was sleepy.
  • He didn't learn any Italian when he was in Italy two years ago.
  • I went to the cinema, bought popcorn and watched a movie.

Use

  1. Events in the past that are now finished
  2. Situation in the past
  3. A series of actions in the past
  4. Action in the past taking place in the middle of another action

Read more about Past Simple in Passive Voice

Use 1: Events in the Past that Are Now Finished

The first use of the Past Simple is to express actions that happened at a specific time in the past. The actions can be short or long:

  • John cut his finger last week. (short)
  • I went to college 3 years ago. (long)
  • He ate the dinner 1 hour ago. (short)
  • I slept well last night. (long)

Use 2: Situation in the Past

Another use of this tense occurs when we talk about situations in the past and historical facts:

  • I lived in New York for 10 years (I don't live there anymore).
  • He married a woman who lived in the same village.
  • Maria SkÅ‚odowska discovered polonium and radium.
  • Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Use 3: Series of Actions in the Past

The Past Simple can also be used with a few actions in the past happening one after another:

  • He entered a room, lit a cigarette and smiled at the guests.
  • Jude got up, came to the window and pulled up the shade.

Use 4: Action in the Past Taking Place in the Middle of Another Action

  • When I was having breakfast, the phone suddenly rang.
  • When we were walking home, we saw two masked men run out of the bank.

Another possible using

1. When we want to talk politely (instead of Present Simple):

  • I wondered if you could give me some advice.
  • I thought you would want to see her.
  • I wanted to bring it to your attention.

2. After expressions like: if only, I wish, it`s (high) time, I`d rather instead of Present Simple or Future as a wish or hypothetical aspect:

  • Its high time you grew up.
  • I wish I knew the right words
  • If only she knew the truth.

3. In conditional clauses and reported speech in the meaning of Present:

  • If he had more courage, he would date her.
  • He said, that he planned to run for reelection.

Form

Forming a sentence in the Past Simple is easy. To form a declarative sentence, all you need is a subject of the sentence (e.g. I, you, he, a dog) and the past form of your verb (e.g. was, talked, swam). Questions and negative sentences are only a little more difficult because they require an auxiliary verb.

Declarative Sentences

Subject + Verb
e.g. he, she, a dog, etc. e.g. walked, went, took, etc.

 

Examples

Use (click to read)

John cut his finger last week.

1

He entered a room, lit a cigarette and smiled at the guests.

3

He married a woman who lived in the same village.

2

I slept well last night.

1

I saw two colorful fishes in the lake yesterday.
(Use 1: Events in the past that are now finished )

Time Expressions

Common time expressions (time adverbials) in the Past Simple are:

  • just now
  • 3 minutes ago
  • yesterday
  • the day before yesterday
  • the other day
  • on Monday
  • last Friday
  • last week
  • a year ago
  • in 1990

Questions

Did + Subject + Verb (present form)
e.g. he, she, a dog, etc. e.g. go, make, have, etc.

 

Examples

Use (click to read)

How long did he work there?

1

Did the telephone ring?

1

Did you see that?

1

Negative Sentences

Subject Didn't Verb (present form)
e.g. he, she, a dog, etc. e.g. go, make, have, etc.

 

Examples

Use (click to read)

He didn't learn any Italian when he was in Italy two year ago.

1

I wasn't at my grandma's when you came.

1

He didn't get any good grades when he attended school.

3

Check your understanding!