If you speak English, you most likely make use of the English past tense every day. And chances are, if you're not an English scholar or planning on teaching English, you don't know how to explain how each of the four tenses making up the past tense system are formed and used (or even that there are four variations!). For the average person; there is one past tense and that's all there is to know. If you want to know more (or plan on teaching English) then knowledge of each of the four minor tenses that make up the past tense is required. The four past tenses are: past simple, past continuous, past perfect and past perfect continuous.
This simple guide will tell you everything you need to know about the first of the past tenses, the past simple tense.
When is the past simple tense used?
The past simple tense is used for:
- Referring to past actions when the time that they took place is given e.g.
I went to the Zoo yesterday; She walked to the shop at six 'o clock
- Asking about the time that an event took place or about a specific event or action e.g.
When did you buy your car?; Did you go to the movies yesterday?
- Referring to an action that took place at a specific time, but the time is not mentioned e.g.
He arrived later than expected; I bought this book months ago
How is the past simple tense formed?
Tenses have three variations: Affirmative, Negative and Question
Note: The past simple form of the verb is usually created by adding "d" or "ed" to the base form of a verb, but there are many irregular verbs that have no rules as to how they are formed. Experience is required to learn these â a list of irregular verbs can be found in most good English dictionaries.
-Affirmative: Subject + Past simple form of verb e.g.
I played tennis; They scored three times; It ran away
-Negative: Subject + Did not (or Didn't) + Base form of verb e.g.
I did not play tennis; They did not score three times; It didn't run away
- Question: Did + subject + base form of verb e.g.
Did I play tennis?; Did they score three times?; Did it run away?
Keep it simple
It may seem that there is no simple way of learning the English tense system, but by taking one minor tense at a time and practicing its formation and different uses, one will find that the tense system can be learnt fairly quickly. Knowledge of parts of speech and the rules to form each tense is important in the beginning, and once these are fully remembered, practice will see the entire system becoming much easier to understand and use naturally and correctly.