English grammar past simple tense – language exchange.
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What is the past simple tense?
The past simple tense, sometimes called the simple past, is an English grammar tense that has 4 different uses.
The past simple tense may cause many students to worry, not because it is difficult to understand but because of the long list of irregular verbs that students must learn.
Click here for the Smart Language Solutions list of irregular verbs (with pronunciation guide).
The most important rule to remember when using the past simple is the action happened at a specific time in the past*, is finished, and has no connection to now.
What is the first use of the past simple?
The past simple is used to express a past action that is finished.
- I woke up at 10am yesterday.
- He walked to my house last night.
- They finished work on the new website last week.
Do you remember the rules for past continuous?
Click here to double check your understanding.
What is the second use of the past simple?
The past simple is used to make a list of finished past actions.
- I woke up at 10am yesterday, I ate my breakfast at 11am and I went to work at 1pm.
- He walked to my house last night, after that he walked home, and he walked to work this morning.
- They finished work on the new website last week, they uploaded it to the internet on Monday this week, and on Tuesday a hacker destroyed the website.
We can use a list of past tense action to tell a story in English, but this usually sounds very boring, which is why we use past continuous, past perfect simple, past perfect continuous, and other tenses to bring stories to life.
What is the third use of the past simple?
The past simple is used to express past habits.
- I smoked a lot when I was younger.
- A few years ago she ran to keep fit.
- They drank a lot of coffee in the past.
When we use the past simple to express past habits we do not specify if this habit is still ongoing.
If we want to express a past habit that no longer happens we use “used to”, click here for more information.
What is the fourth use of the past simple?
The past simple is used to express an action that started and finished in the past that lasted for some period of time.
- I lived in Moscow for 2 years in the 90’s.
- He swam for Ireland when he was younger.
- They shared a flat when they were at university.
Now that you know the past simple is used to express a finish past action, it is now time to look at the correct construct of the past simple tense.
How do I construct positive sentences in the past simple?
Positive past simple sentences are constructed as follows
Subject + past simple main verb + rest of the sentence.
He went to the cinema yesterday.
We can include the auxiliary verb “did” in positive sentences.
However did is ONLY used to make a strong point.
When we use did we change the construction.
Subject + did + infinitive verb + rest of the sentence.
I cleaned my room yesterday. – The speaker is using normal past simple.
I did clean my room yesterday. – The speaker wants to emphasis the fact that they cleaned their room.
When do I use irregular verbs in positive past simple sentences?
Irregular verbs must be learnt, click here for our list, and use them when needed.
Are there any special spelling rules for regular verbs in positive past simple sentences?
Yes there are.
If a regular verb ends in a silent “e” simply add “d”.
Close = Closed
Phone = Phoned
If a verb ends in a vowel and “y” add “ed”.
Play = Played
Annoy = Annoyed
If a verb ends in a consonant and “y” drop the “y” and add “ied”.
Carry = Carried
Study = Studied
If a vowel is followed by a consonant and the sound of the consonant is stressed in spoken English then the consonant is doubled and we add “ed”.
Stop – Stopped.
Ban – Banned.
To fully understand this rule you need to listen to the pronunciation of the base verb.
If the verb ends in “l” double the “l” – “ll” and add “ed”.
Cancel – Cancelled.
Travel – Travelled.
For all other (non irreguar) verbs simply add “ed”.
How do I construct negative sentences in the past simple?
The good news about negative past simple sentence is that there is no need to conjugate any of the verbs.
Subject + auxiliary verb didn’t + infinitive main verb + rest of the sentence.
I didn’t lie to you.
We didn’t go to Spain on holidays.
She didn’t work in a supermarket when she was at university.
How do I construct questions in the past simple?
Like negative sentences we do not conjugate the verb.
Did + subject + infinitive verb + rest of the question.
Did you lie to me?
Did he go to Spain on holiday last year?
Did they work in a supermarket?
*When we say the action happened at specific time in the past, it means the speaker has the idea when the action happened in their mind even if they don’t mention when the action happened.
Now that you know how to use the past simple it is time to practice what you learnt with native English speakers.
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The Past Simple
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Question 1 of 12
Past simple actions start in the past and continue to now?Correct
Question 2 of 12
The past simple has how many uses?Correct
Question 3 of 12
Which sentence best describes a finished past action?Correct
Question 4 of 12
Which sentence best describes a list of past habits?Correct
Question 5 of 12
Which sentence best describes a finished action that happened over a period of time?Correct
Question 6 of 12
If the verb ends in a consonant and “y” you add?Correct
Question 7 of 12
If the verb ends in a silent “e” you add?Correct
Question 8 of 12
If the verb ends in vowel and a “y” you add?Correct
Question 9 of 12
If the verb ends in a consonant and “y” you add?Correct
Question 10 of 12
What auxiliary verb is used in past simple question sentences?Correct
Question 11 of 12
What form of the main verb is used after the auxiliary verb in negative past simple sentences?Correct
Question 12 of 12
What is the best website to improve your second language for free?Correct
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