English grammar

Verb tense - Simple Past


Simple Past


[VERB+ed] or irregular verbs


  • Affirmative: He wrote
  • Negative: He did not write
  • Interrogative: Did he write?
  • Negative interrogative: Did he not write?

Most verbs conjugate by adding -ed

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I played.
You played.
We played.
They played.
He played.
She played.
It played.
I did not play.
You did not play.
We did not play.
They did not play.
He did not play.
She did not play.
It did not play.
Did I play?
Did you play?
Did we play?
Did they play?
Did he play?
Did she play?
Did it play?

Irregular Verbs

Many verbs, such as "have, drive,..." take irregular forms in the Simple Past. Notice that you only use the irregular verbs in statements. In negative forms and questions, "did" indicates Simple Past.

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I drove.
You drove.
We drove.
They drove.
He drove.
She drove.
It drove.
I did not drive.
You did not drive.
We did not drive.
They did not drive.
He did not drive.
She did not drive.
It did not drive.
Did I drive?
Did you drive?
Did we drive?
Did they drive?
Did he drive?
Did she drive?
Did it drive?

Completed Action in the Past

Use the Simple Past to express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past.


  • Last week, I traveled to Spain.
  • Last year, I didn't travel to America.
  • I saw a movie last weekend.
  • I didn't see a play yesterday.
  • Did you have dinner last night?
  • He washed his car.
  • Se didn't wash his car.

A Series of Completed Actions

We use the Simple Past to list a series of completed actions in the past. These actions happen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on.


  • I finished work, walked to the beach, and found a nice place to swim.
  • He arrived from the airport at 8:00, checked into the hotel at 9:00, and met the others at 10:00.
  • Did you add flour, pour in the milk, and then add the eggs?

Duration in Past

The Simple Past can be used with a duration which starts and stops in the past. A duration is a longer action often indicated by expressions such as: for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc.


  • I lived in Madrid for two years.
  • Peter studied spanish for five years.
  • They sat at the beach all day.
  • They did not stay at the party the entire time.
  • We talked on the phone for thirty minutes.

Habits in the Past

The Simple Past can also be used to describe a habit which stopped in the past. It can have the same meaning as "used to." To make it clear that we are talking about a habit, we often add expressions such as: always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was younger, etc.


  • I studied Spanish when I was a child.
  • He played the violin.
  • He didn't play the piano.
  • Did you play a musical instrument when you were a kid?
  • She worked at the movie theater after school.

Past Facts or Generalizations

The Simple Past can also be used to describe past facts or generalizations which are no longer true. This use of the Simple Past is quite similar to the expression "used to."


  • She was shy as a child, but now she is very outgoing.
  • He didn't like tomatoes before.
  • Did you live in Texas when you were a kid?
  • People paid much more to make cell phone calls in the past.

IMPORTANT When-Clauses Happen First

Clauses are groups of words which have meaning but are often not complete sentences. Some clauses begin with the word "when" such as "when I dropped my pen..." or "when class began..." These clauses are called when-clauses, and they are very important. The examples below contain when-clauses.


  • When I paid her one dollar, she answered my question.
  • She answered my question when I paid her one dollar.

When-clauses are important because they always happen first when both clauses are in the Simple Past. Both of the examples above mean the same thing: first, I paid her one dollar, and then, she answered my question. It is not important whether "when I paid her one dollar" is at the beginning of the sentence or at the end of the sentence. However, the example below has a different meaning. First, she answered my question, and then, I paid her one dollar.


  • I paid her one dollar when she answered my question.


The examples below show the placement for grammar adverbs such as: always, only, never, ever, still, just, etc.


  • You just called Debbie.
  • Did you just call Debbie?



  • Tom repaired the car. Active
  • The car was repaired by Tom. Passive

To Be

The verb "be" is also irregular in the Simple Past. Unlike other irregular verbs, there are two Simple Past forms: "was" and "were." It also has different question forms and negative forms. Always remember that you DO NOT use "did" with the verb "be" in the Simple Past.

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I was.
You were.
We were.
They were.
He was.
She was.
It was.
I was not.
You were not.
We were not.
They were not.
He was not.
She was not.
It was not.
Was I?
Were you?
Were we?
Were they?
Was he?
Was she?
Was it?

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs behave very strangely in the Simple Past. The most important verb to remember is "must." Notice how it becomes "had to" in the Simple Past.

"Must" becomes "had to":

  • I must call my wife now.
  • I had to call my wife yesterday.