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Past Simple Tense

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Introduction

The past simple tense (also called the preterite) describes a completed action that took place before the present moment.

Form

In English, the past simple tense does not change based on person or number.

To form the past simple tense, regular verbs add –ed:

She ordered

I sulked

I obeyed

She smiled

For specific spelling rules, please watch the video above.

Irregular verbs change more drastically. Here are a few examples:

Do – did

Come – came

Buy – bought

Sit – sat

Negative Form

The negative form consists of did not (didn’t) and the base (the infinitive minus to)

We didn’t (did not) surrender.

He did not call.

They didn’t wait.

Asking Questions

To ask a question in the past simple tense, use did and the base (the infinitive minus to):

Did you ask?

Did they request that?

Uses

Completed Actions

I cooked breakfast.

Over a period of three years he mastered the guitar.

Repeated Actions

Every day at lunch she ate a sandwich with cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

Frequency

I rarely played the flute those days.

Sequence of Actions

I smiled and she frowned.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.