English tenses

Simple past

The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now.  Unlike the past continuous tense, which is used to talk about past events that happened over a period of time, the simple past tense emphasizes that the action is finished.

The simple past tense

This page will present the simple past tense:

  • its form
  • and its use.

Before you continue the lesson read the following passage and try to see how the verbs are formed and used.

Mozart was an Austrian musician and composer. He lived from 1756 to 1791. He started composing at the age of five years old and wrote more than 600 pieces of music. He was only 35 years old when he died.

The verbs "waslived,startedwrotedied" are in the simple past tense.

Notice that:

  • livedstarted,died are regular past forms.
  • was, wrote are irregular past forms.

Regular verbs:

The verbs "lived, started, died" are regular past forms. The rule is the following:

Verb + ed


The infinitive The simple past
live lived
start started
die died
visit visited
play played
watch watched
phone phoned
marry married


Irregular verbs:

The verbs "waswrote" are irregular past forms. "Was" is the simple past of "to be"; "wrote" is the simple past of "write".

There is no rule for these verbs. You should learn them by heart.

The infinitive The simple past
be was/were
write wrote
come came
do did
meet met
speak spoke

As you can see we can not predict the simple past forms of these verbs. They are irregular. You should learn them by heart.

The forms of the simple past:

The Affirmative form of the simple past:

I, you, he, she, it, we, they played.


  • played tennis with my friends yesterday.
  • finished lunch and I did my homework.

The interrogative form of the simple past:

Did I, you, he, she, it, we, they play?


  • Did you play basketball yesterday?
  • Did you watch television?
  • Did you do the homework?

The negative form of the simple past:

I, you, he, she, it, we, they did not/didn't play
  • didn't like the food in the wedding last Saturday.
  • didn't eat it.

The use of the simple past

The simple past is used principally to describe events in the past, but it also has some other uses. Here are the main uses of the simple past.

Finished events in the past

  • William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
  • Christoph Columbus discovered America in 1492.
  • He kissed her and left.

Past habitual action

  • visited them every day for a year.
  • drove to work every day when I worked with that company.

Events that were true for some time in the past

  • He lived in Paris for 20 years.
  • They talked on the phone for ten minutes.


didn't is the short form of did not. You can say either:

  • did not play basketball, or
  • didn't play basketball.


Simple past (to be) (Prev Lesson)
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